Rainy Class Day, Sunny Commencement Send Class of 2006 on Its Way
By Laura Butchy ’04 Arts
Photos by Eileen Barroso
About 1,000 members of the Class of 2006 celebrated their becoming alumni at a rainy Class Day on May 16 and at a sun-drenched Commencement the following day.
The Class Day downpour could not put a damper on the graduates’ send-off, which was attended by family and friends as well as alumni who braved the rain to carry their class banners and march in the Parade of Classes.
“You have a responsibility,” Dean Austin Quigley told the graduates, “to leave the world better than you found it.” His address echoed the thoughts of salutatorian Julia DiBenigno ’06, who said, “Now we have an obligation to use our education to give back ... to our world.” The graduates already have begun giving back to Columbia, raising more than $20,000 for the Senior Fund and setting a record with an 83.5 percent participation rate.
The keynote speaker at Class Day was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who focused his speech on the need for debate and tolerance, touching on his support of the war in Iraq. “Ours is a noisy, contentious society and always has been, for we love our liberties much. Among those liberties we love most, particularly so when we are young, is our right to self-expression,” McCain said. “We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions … It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.”
(Top) Wayne Ting ’06, Senior Fund Committee chair, proudly announced a participation rate of 83.5 percent, a new standard for Columbia College and a record for Ivy League liberal arts undergraduate institutions, at Class Day. Joining Ting are committee vice chairs (from left) Paul
Mazzilli ’06, Lauren DeLauro ’06, Beth Katz ’06, Gina Cucchiara ’06 and Kwame Spearman ’06.
Members of the Class of 2006 already were taking McCain’s advice, with some protesting McCain’s speech by distributing orange buttons that said “McCain does not speak for me” as well as orange and white umbrellas. The mixed reaction he received did not seem to bother McCain, who urged students to exercise tolerance and respect for those with whom they disagree, but never to give up the debate.
“Let us argue with each other then. By all means, let us argue,” he said. “Our differences are not petty. They often involve cherished beliefs. Let us defend those beliefs. Let’s do so sincerely and strenuously. And let’s not be too dismayed with the tenor and passion of our arguments, even when they wound us. We have fought among ourselves before in our history, over big things and small, with worse vitriol and bitterness than we experience today.”
While the rainstorm prompted some guests to leave Class Day early, the sunny skies at Commencement were welcomed by more than 30,000, including some 10,000 graduates, who packed the campus between Low and Butler Libraries.
As is customary, President Lee C. Bollinger delivered the Commencement address and urged graduates to view themselves as lifelong students of the world, emphasizing the need for general knowledge. “Today we learn about other cultures, other nations and other views because we must do so, because our lives depend on one another,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat, not in separate boats occasionally passing one another. We understand that disease or pollution in one place can spread everyplace; that poverty and hunger on one continent are our responsibility, just as they are when the desperate live nearby; and that a new discovery in one lab can spark innovation around the world. …
“As you graduate, your challenge is to see yourself not as the center of things, but in relation to ‘everything’… This requires an extraordinary openness of mind, a willingness to embrace unfamiliar knowledge, and, indeed, a humility. So, the stakes are high. But so is the potential to do good.”
The celebration continued with honorary degrees being awarded to artist and architect Maya Lin, historian Gerda Lerner, business and community leader Kenneth Chenault, human rights activist Oswaldo Payá, mathematician C.K. Chu and cell biologist Irving Weissman. Sallie Krawcheck ’92 Barnard received the University Medal for Excellence.
DeWitt Clinton Professor of History Eric Foner ’63 was among those who were honored with Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching, and two College alumni were among the Alumni Medalists: Bernard Goldman ’46, ’47E, ’48J and Renan Pierre ’86, ’87E.
Laura Butchy ’04 Arts is CCT’s assistant editor as well
as a freelance journalist and dramaturge.