Features

Uniquely United

More than 8,000 viewers tuned in on their computers and televisions on May 19 for the College’s first virtual Class Day — a colorful ceremony featuring messages and photos from graduates and their families, with remarks from Dean James J. Valentini and keynote speaker Hon. Rolando T. Acosta ’79, LAW ’82. The broad- cast united the graduating class across oceans and time zones, from Santa Clara to Brownsville, Dhaka to Buenos Aires. This was — as Valentini noted in his welcome remarks — an unprecedented celebration for unprecedented times.

Senior Class President James Ritchie ’20 highlighted the uncommonly common experience of a most unique Class of 2020. “We arrived in Morningside Heights in the ‘Yes We Can’ era of hope and positivity,” said Ritchie. “And try as the universe did to break our spirits, we improvised, adapted and overcame. We were and are a special class. We are resilient even as we have been made to handle far more than we thought we could.”

Raised in the South Bronx and Washington Heights, Acosta, presiding justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appel- late Division, First Department, emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States with his family at 14. A former star on the Lions varsity baseball team, he was inducted into the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.

In his remarks, Acosta paid tribute to his father, who died recently, at 97, of complications from COVID-19: “He showed me that my contentment is directly related to the path I follow to success and the lives that I impact.” Acosta praised the Core Curriculum as something that provided him guidance in becoming “someone who values giving back to my community, cherishes the rule of law and has chosen to work within the system to ensure that justice prevails.”

Acosta challenged the Class of 2020 to “continue to find ways in which to help others through your work,” for “this challenge will not only benefit society, but it will also be the beginning of a more satis- fying part of your life’s journey, where you will discover that there is no substitute for a balanced life, which includes service to others.”

The next day, the members of CC’20 joined graduates from across the University for virtual Commencement. The deans of all of Columbia’s schools gave speeches before President Lee C. Bollinger formally conferred their degrees. To further mark the day, a surprise gift was delivered: an original song, “Oh, Columbia,” written by composer Tom Kitt ’96 and performed in a special video by actor Ben Platt GS’14.

See Class Day photos from around the world in the Columbia College Facebook album.