Finding Comfort in Community

I never imagined that I’d be writing my last message in CCT in the midst of global and national crises. These recent, unsettling months have affected each of us differently, and the impact will surely be felt for months and even years to come. As we wrestle with our many current challenges — an account of which could itself take up the entirety of this message — I see a parallel story emerging about how we are navigating our way through this moment in time. Family and community have perhaps never felt more vital. And so during this time I am especially grateful for our Columbia College family, which continues to grow closer and find new ways to offer uplift and support.

Several young people smiling

Thanks for the memories! Behringer (in denim jacket) and the financial aid letter (below) that made it all possible.

Photos Courtesy Michael Behringer ’89

As it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, I’m awed and inspired by the Columbia alumni and faculty healthcare professionals on the front lines, as well as the many scientists and researchers working on treatments and cures. On behalf of the College community, thank you for all that you’re doing. I’d also like to acknowledge those among us who are struggling with adversity of all kinds right now. Please know that your alumni family is always there for you.

Picture of financial award letter dated April 10, 1985

Social distancing has required the College to rethink — and in many cases, reinvent — how it engages with alumni. In the long run, I think that the Columbia College Alumni Association’s activities and programming will be better for it. Here, some of the great work the CCAA has been doing recently:

• Current Students: Undergraduates are the future of the CCAA and have been a focus in recent years. In April, we offered more than 20 student/alumni events, with more to come this summer. The goal was to support students, provide information on career paths and industries, and foster a sense of community. Originally planned as live events, we pivoted to hold these virtually, which enabled us to expand the number of both alumni and student participants.

• The Class of 2020: We are holding workshops and speaker events, offering a 1:1 mentoring match program and developing communications aimed at helping our newest community members.

• Young Alumni: At a time of great uncertainty about careers and the economy, we also will hold virtual mentoring and career-focused events for young alumni; these began in May with a presentation from an executive coach and will continue throughout the summer.

• Alumni Engagement: In a similar vein, we launched a virtual speaker series that leverages the expertise and wisdom within our community for the benefit of all alumni. We will cover a range of topics, including the search for a COVID-19 vaccine, the economy and job market, and mindfulness and meditation.

• Columbia Reunion: In-person reunion was postponed (we are still looking for an alternate time); however, we offered parts of the weekend online on June 6; these included the Dean’s Update and the presentation of the CCAA President’s Cup, which each year honors one volunteer for contributions to their class’s reunion.

As I indicated at the outset, this is my last column for CCT, as my term as CCAA president ended in June. How not to sound trite when explaining how meaningful the College has been for me? Words seem inadequate.

I’m always grateful for the opportunity I was given to attend Columbia. My family were immigrants and I was a first-generation student. I don’t remember the day I received my acceptance letter; what I remember was when the letter about my financial aid package arrived — for that was when I knew I could attend the College.

I’m here today only because of forward-thinking financial aid policies supported by the generosity of alumni like you. And I’m delighted that those policies have only expanded and strengthened over time. I suppose that’s one reason I’m driven to give back to the school and pay that debt forward. And on behalf of similarly situated students and alumni, I thank all of you who have supported this initiative. You’ve changed lives in many ways you may never fully appreciate.

My four years on campus were transformative and magical. That experience, and the friendships I made, continue to be an integral part of my life. And I’m lucky that through the CCAA, I’ve been able to extend that experience and those relationships throughout my adult life. There are many ways to stay involved and in touch with our community; I hope each of you finds the right one for you.

I look forward to seeing you soon, once we are on the other side.

As always, ROAR!