Class of 2018, “Embrace Your Fears”

Caps, gowns, lions — check! Columbia’s newest alumni are welcomed with speeches, interviews and more.

Photo of Columbia University graduates

More than 1,200 students joined the ranks of alumni at Class Day 2018, celebrating with all the pomp (plus tears and joy!) the circumstance called for. The ceremony, which took place on May 15, opened with the 15th annual Alumni Parade of Classes and featured remarks from Dean James J. Valentini (see page 3) and keynote speaker Dede Gardner ’90, an Academy Award-winning producer and the co-president of Plan B Entertainment.

Gardner took the podium for a moving speech about the power of empathy. “We’re going to do this a little differently than perhaps is common,” she said, explaining that she’d emailed the graduating class in advance to ask them to share their deepest fears. She then read them aloud — a lengthy list that ranged from lovelessness and loneliness to not making a difference or selling out; racism, bigotry, misogyny and violence; disappointing yourself and others around you; living a life of “should” and not “wish.”

“Your story is your legacy, no matter when or how or if it gets told.”
— Class Day speaker Dede Gardner ’90

“They are fears that belong to all of us,” she said. “I give this commonality to you as your first state of awareness as graduates, because I have lived long enough to know that it is from this understanding that anything is possible.”

Of the people we meet, she concluded: “Presume very little in your life, but of this I am sure: If they are human, if they breathe and churn and rage and dance and stomp and mourn and honor; know that they, too, are walking this mad human experiment and know that they, too, are scared. No matter how alien this may seem to you, I believe it is here that you will find the kindest reflection and, in this gleam, your leap.”

The University-wide Commencement took place the following day, with President Lee C. Bollinger delivering his annual address. Shazi Visram ’99, BUS’04 received the University Medal for Excellence, and John C. Connell ’76; James P. Gerkis ’80, LAW’83; Teresa Saputo-Crerend ’87, BUS’92; and Michael J. Schmidtberger ’82, LAW’85 were among the 10 recipients of Alumni Medals for distinguished service to the University of 10 years or more.

CCT Print Extras

Hear Gardner’s full remarks and other Class Day speeches; view more photos from Class Day and Commencement, and see the list of Academic Awards and Prizes winners in our 2018 Graduation Print Extra.