Take Five with Stacy Rotner ’99

Stacy Rotner_cropped


Stacy Rotner ’99 is the director of corporate responsibility for the law firm Sidley Austin. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Rotner was compelled to act; she founded GratiFoodNYC, a grassroots initiative to donate meals to frontline healthcare workers. Within 24 hours of its launch on April 4 Rotner had raised more than $10,000; in less than four weeks she had raised $65,000. To date, GratiFoodNYC has donated more than 6,500 meals across 12 New York City hospitals.

In May, Rotner decided to tackle the dire issue of food insecurity. GratiFoodNYC launched a partnership with New York Common Pantry, a nonprofit that supports food-insecure individuals in New York City via a soup kitchen, food pantries in East Harlem and the Bronx, and more than 100 food distribution locations. Since the partnership launched, GratiFoodNYC has raised more than $100,000 for New York Common Pantry. Rotner’s goal is to raise $1,000,000 to help feed hungry New Yorkers. To make a donation or to get more information, visit GratiFoodNYC.org.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

My eyes had never been open wider in my life. Everything was new and exciting — I was simultaneously overwhelmed and diving in headfirst. I was living in a state of perpetual amazement my whole first year — everything was novel. The pile of books from Lit Hum alone took up half of my dorm room desk. I oddly fell in love with “Ancient Greek Art” and the Socratic, utterly charming teaching style of Professor Richard Brilliant (who lived up to his name and with whom I went on to take two more classes). I also fell in love with the patchwork of greenery sandwiched between Low and Butler— I felt like I had discovered the most perfect slice of heaven amidst the skyscrapers and concrete of Manhattan. I was surprised to learn that it was possible to take yoga to satisfy the Core phys ed requirement! I was also in shock that the College allowed a friend and I to co-found the Undergraduate Art History Club, through which we convinced the best and brightest art historians and scholars to give us free tours of the top art institutions in the country. At Columbia, I felt like I was constantly winning.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

Several of my dormmates and I used our shared kitchen most nights of the week and concocted all sorts of strange dinners. I had never cooked before and then, suddenly, I was mixing random jars and cans of this and that, alongside new friends, creating meals from strange ingredients. I did not think I came to the College to cultivate an appreciation for culinary innovation, not to mention rice and beans, but somehow it happened. On the nights we didn’t cook, friends and I ate Ollie’s steamed veggie dumplings for dinner, which we thought were an absolute delicacy. We still talk about them.

On the subject of food and my first year, I ate the most delicious “fat-free frozen yogurt” every day for lunch in my first two months. On a regular basis, I actually asked the server if it was really fat-free. He insisted it was. One day, the sign changed to “ICE CREAM,” while the formula remained the same. College life lesson learned: If it’s too good to be true, it is.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

I was an art history major but I thought Music Hum was possibly the grandest gift one could receive as a student in New York City. I remember seeing Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera House with my class. It was my first opera and, as the crystal chandeliers ascended into the ceiling, I remember thinking that no college experience could surpass that of a Columbia undergrad.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I loved studying in Butler. The large room with so much history, shared with friends and strangers until late at night, always was thrilling to me. Studying late felt liberating; I feel like it was one of the first assertions of my young adult independence. I am fairly certain that there are much more exciting ways to assert adulthood but I loved the idea of being among brilliant minds, poring over stacks of books late at night, when most normal people were probably asleep.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I would have studied less and played more. I spent so much time in the library (even though it was my favorite spot!), I am pretty sure I missed out on a lot of good stuff. I probably also should have at least tried to find a husband there, but would have, could have, should have… It was not a priority.

I will share that my friends from college are like sisters — that is for sure the one thing I would NOT do over. I did that right. We continue to speak daily and I feel gratitude toward Columbia every day for bringing this group of strong, brilliant, opinionated, talented and funny women into my life.