I’m moved every year by this ceremony, with its palpable pride and joy and sentimental expressions. I’ll admit to a certain predisposition toward the art that is the graduation speech. The best are honest, inspiring, humble and not without humor. They speak to the feelings that course through anyone who has reached this rite of passage. And they are personal, born of the speaker’s own experiences, driven by a desire to impart this final lesson or kernel of wisdom, to ask a mind-opening question, to offer something on this momentous day that might be carried forward.
Here I tip my hat to Brandon Victor Dixon ’03, who delivered beautifully on this ideal. His was a moving appeal to the responsibility we all have to and for each other. Proximity is how we learn about each other, he said, and there is no such thing as “trickle-down empathy.” “Change and unity are created from the ground up by coalitions of neighbors and friends. You can wield all the reason and logic in the world, but sometimes the only way to change someone is to literally touch their lives.”
Bill Phillips / Lifetouch Photography
The same could be said of the writers we met through CCT’s first student short fiction contest, the winner of which has her story featured in this issue. We weren’t sure what kind of participation to expect when we conceived of the contest last fall; as an alumni magazine, we also weren’t sure how well the current students knew us. Would they even respond to our call? But we wanted to bridge that gap with our future readers, and to spotlight their talents in a way that felt suited to our pages. We were thrilled when the final submissions tally reached close to 70.
Winnowing that number to five finalists was a challenge. But the set that we sent to our alumni judges glowed, and they in turn were unanimous in their selection of Sophia Cornell ’20 as the winner. Two additional stories, by Rachel Page ’20 and Philip Kim ’20, earned honorable mentions and will be posted on our website; I encourage you to read them, and I thank all the students who submitted a story. It was a pleasure to read your work.
Thank you as well to our judges, authors Kelly Link ’91, Darryl Pinckney ’88 and Jill Santopolo ’03. They treated their responsibility with the utmost care and respect. And I have no doubt that their participation and what it signaled — the possibility for students of having their work read by such a venerable trio — is what spurred our high number of entries.
Finally, if I may step outside the pages of this issue, I’d like to highlight another special student experience that CCT had this past semester — at the Senior Dinner, held every year on the last day of classes. For those who aren’t familiar, the event is sponsored by the Alumni Office as a way to celebrate and welcome seniors into the ranks of alumni. It’s always a festive night, and this year we set up a photo-op to create some extra keepsake moments — your face on the cover of CCT! We loved it, and hope the seniors did, too.
I’m sure it won’t be long before we see them again in our pages.
Published quarterly by the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends of Columbia College.