College and Engineering Grads-To-Be Celebrate with a “Divine” Senior Dinner

Friday, May 10, 2024
Students gathered at the entrance to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine for a special joint Senior Dinner.

Students gathered at the entrance to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine for a special joint Senior Dinner.

Eileen Barroso

On a warm night that felt like summer came early, 1,200 students climbed the iconic steps to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine for a special joint Senior Dinner celebrating the Columbia College and Columbia Engineering Classes of 2024.

The event, typically held separately for each school, had been rescheduled from April 30 following the unrest and protests on campus. Instead of the usual locations on Ancell Plaza and South Lawn, the dinners were reimagined as a combined affair for May 8, and moved just blocks away to the landmark church.

“Despite the challenges of the current moment, you as graduating students have achieved something remarkable. And you deserve every bit of acknowledgement and celebration,” College Dean Josef Sorett said, addressing the crowded room. “You’ve pushed yourself to achieve more than you ever thought possible and you’ve emerged from this journey stronger, wiser and more capable than before.”

As is tradition, the seniors turned out largely dressed to impress, from blazers and spiffy shorts to cocktail dresses in snazzy prints. The cathedral’s interior elicited more than a few awestruck comments: The first sight on arrival was a dramatic ribboned art installation that streamed down from above; further in, the space was awash in blue lighting with the College and Engineering crowns illuminated on the floor.

Throughout the night, food stations offered options from sushi to steak. Students threaded around the room, shoulder to shoulder, chatting and snapping photos — all against a backdrop of lively DJ music. The din briefly abated for remarks from the College and Engineering deans and class presidents.

Columbia College and Columbia Engineering students enjoy Senior Dinner at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

Enjoying the food and festivity.

Eileen Barroso

Priya Chainani CC’24 and Stella Lessler SEAS’24, standing together at the podium, acknowledged both the time-honored and the exceptional aspects of the occasion.

“The senior dinner is a cherished dinner that unites us all and marks our initial steps toward becoming alumni,” Chainani said. “This past week has been trying in many ways, and thus we felt it was important to preserve and commemorate these final moments we have together as a class. … While there are incredibly important conversations happening on our campus, this is also a moment for us to acknowledge our resilience and achievement in a less than traditional four years here.”

“Reflecting on our journey at Columbia, it’s clear that our class has been really far from a typical college experience,” Lessler said. “It is precisely this that makes our class so special and unique. Even tonight is emblematic of how we have marked our milestones in a unique way, as this is the first time in Columbia’s history that there has been a combined CC and SEAS Senior Dinner.”

Engineering Dean Shih-Fu Chang noted that the class was special to him, as his first year as dean coincided with their sophomore year, when they finally came to campus after a year spent remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “You have demonstrated the best example of resilience, perseverance and creativity,” he said. “You have made many friends and worked so hard to finish your senior design project.”

The evening, he added, gesturing to the grand surroundings, will “add a special memory to the experience. … The past few months and in particular the past few weeks has been a very challenging time, and your support for one another is key.”

Sorett closed by encouraging students to carry their lessons from Columbia forward. “Remember, your time at Columbia has not only been about your personal growth and development, but also about your role in shaping the world around you. You have the power and the responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others and to inspire change and leave your mark on the world in countless ways — truly, to leave the world better than you found it.”

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