A Time for Renewal

Diane Bondareff

The many ways that we engage with time — past, present and future — are themes running throughout this issue of Columbia College Today. They also form a thread connecting many of the experiences, traditions and people I have had the pleasure and privilege of engaging with since becoming dean. And, with an opportunity over winter break to pause and reflect on the past six months, I have been struck by how the living history of our alumni community, and the centuries-old ideals that define Columbia College’s traditions, play such vital roles in shaping today’s campus.

Since moving into Hamilton Hall last July, my immersion in the work of the College — beyond the quotidian — has centered on an ongoing series of illuminating and broad-ranging conversations with numerous alumni, faculty and students. This exploration has been guided by a simple but expansive question that I expect to revisit continually in the years to come: What does it take to meet the mission of the College?

Of course, any discussion of the College’s mission is inextricably bound up with the Core Curriculum — our most tangible link to the deeper history of the College and the intellectual tradition that defines it. By extension, the delicate balance between continuity and innovation at the heart of the Core is also essential to the College’s drive to ensure that the experience we provide for today’s students remains as transformative and attuned to the present moment as it has been for generations. And while this curricular link to the College’s past is critical, it does not address the full holistic scope of our mission.

Developing that more complete view requires a broader grounding in the College’s living history, a critical frame of reference for current circumstances. As Shakespeare aptly put it, “what’s past is prologue,” and our vibrant alumni community is our best link to that shared history, making the time I have already spent with alumni particularly rewarding. In addition to providing me with opportunities to receive a host of welcome and practical counsel, these encounters have deepened my appreciation for the enduring connections our students form while on campus. Spanning geography, fields of study, professional endeavors and time, these connections bind generations of students and inspire many to give back in support of generations yet to come.

Throughout the Fall term, the power of those connections could be seen anew on our campus. With the increase in chance encounters, we witnessed the type of impromptu gatherings that spark curiosity and friendships, and that build camaraderie and a sense of community. These elements, essential in the life of a residential college at every level — academic, co-curricular and personal — had been stifled by the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. And, while consciousness of the lingering public health situation remains, the return of student events, unrestricted gatherings and even co-curricular programming like on-campus employer recruiting have all fostered a renewed energy across the College.

I’ve felt this same energy throughout the many meetings, events and conversations I have participated in since last summer. It has been accompanied by an undercurrent of deep appreciation for what we have regained and a concerted effort to refocus on what is most central and essential to the experience we deliver for our students.

My role as steward of that experience would be impossible without the voices, experience and commitment of our alumni. I thank you for your support. It is my firm belief that any vision for the College’s future must evolve from a community-focused context, drawing on knowledge and insights from all corners. Your lived experience of the institution and its cherished traditions, and your investment in its ongoing excellence, are an invaluable resource for ensuring student success and well-being.

With the Spring term just begun, I encourage you to carry this spirit of renewal forward in your own connection and engagement with the College. Beyond returning to campus for Columbia Reunion 2023, Thursday, June 1–Saturday, June 3, there are many ways to stay involved and give back. The voices, energy and commitment of generations of alumni is one of the College’s great strengths, and it will remain critical in the years ahead.

With respect,

Josef Sorett
Dean of Columbia College and the Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor
Vice President for Undergraduate Education
Professor of Religion and African American & African Diaspora Studies