Hats Off to the Class of 2022

The College joyfully returns to an in-person Class Day after three years.


Photographs by Eileen Barroso

Blue skies greeted the Class of 2022 as 1,272 students joined the ranks of alumni at the first in-person Class Day since 2019. The May 17 ceremony featured remarks from Dean James J. Valentini and keynote speaker Tom Kitt ’96, the acclaimed composer behind the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical Next to Normal.

Graduating seniors who spoke at the ceremony were Zusi Inegbeniki ’22, the Class of 2022 student speaker; Eva Bogomilova ’22, senior class president; and Radhika Mehta ’22, president of the Columbia College Student Council. Jaala Alston ’22 was called to the stage as the inaugural recipient of the James J. Valentini Prize, a new award presented to a graduating senior who demonstrates the qualities of Beginner’s Mind through their curiosity for and desire to learn from different perspectives.

Kitt, who is also known for If/Then, Jagged Little Pill and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, among other works, delivered a speech that reflected on both the challenges of the pandemic and his own experience of transforming anger, frustration and disillusionment into “action, collaboration, inspiration and hope.”

Tom Kitt ’96

Turning to the present moment, he urged the graduates to find their stillness: “Stillness is not staring at a screen,” Kitt said. “Stillness is sitting and getting lost in your thoughts. Stillness is listening to a piece of music that you never knew existed and letting it wash over you. Stillness is reading, looking up for a second, and then reading again. . . . Stillness is where your greatest realizations will come from.”

Quoting a Stephen Sondheim lyric, Kitt continued, “It’s life’s ordinary moments that make the extraordinary ones so worth chasing. We want to bottle them, but we know we can’t. So we keep searching for them. But how will we ensure our lives are filled with them? By going after what’s in your heart. And looking out at all of you this morning, I can see that your hearts are full and you’re ready for your moments. The world is counting on that.”

Kitt closed with a final encouragement: “I believe in all of you and I can’t wait to see what beautiful, spectacular, breathtaking, life-changing, glorious moments are in store for all of you. Go after them, and never look back.”

The University-wide Commencement took place the next day, with President Lee C. Bollinger delivering his annual address. The Hon. Rolando T. Acosta ’79, LAW’82; Rebecca Castillo ’94, JRN’06; and Thomas Cornacchia ’85 were among the 10 recipients of Alumni Medals, given for distinguished service to the University of 10 years or more; Jodi Kantor ’96 received the University Medal for Excellence. On May 19, special ceremonies were held for the Classes of 2020 and 2021, whose Class Days had been virtual because of the pandemic.