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Five Alumni Honored at John Jay Awards Dinner

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Five accomplished alumni — Andrew F. Barth ’83, Alexander Navab ’87, Kenneth Ofori-Atta ’84, Michael Oren ’77 and Elizabeth D. Rubin ’87 — were presented with 2011 John Jay Awards for distinguished professional achievement on Wednesday, March 2, at the annual John Jay Awards Dinner.

Barth, Navab and Ofori-Atta are leaders in finance. Barth is the chairman of Capital Guardian Trust Company and Capital International Limited; Navab is a partner and co-head of North American Private Equity for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.; and Ofori-Atta is the executive chairman and co-founder of Databank Financial Services.

Oren has been the Ambassador of Israel to the United States since 2009, having been appointed to that position by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Rubin is an award-winning journalist and a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and other publications who has served as a war correspondent for more than 15 years, reporting from the front lines in the Balkans, Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The black-tie dinner, attended by approximately 600 at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York, benefits the John Jay Scholars Program, which aims to extend and enhance the academic and extracurricular experiences for outstanding first-year College students. John Jay Scholars are offered the opportunity to participate in special programs such as panels, discussions and presentations by leading professors and professionals, all designed to promote three goals: intellectual growth, leadership development and global awareness.

There was a definite global flavor to the event. Ofori-Atta, who is from Ghana, is the first African-born recipient of the John Jay Award and his business is based in the capital city of Accra. Navab was born in Iran and fled the country with his family at the start of the Islamic revolution. Oren worked on a kibbutz in Israel as a teenager, served in the Israel Defense Forces in the 1982 war with Lebanon and now represents Israel in the United States. Rubin, noting that New York in the 1980s was going through hard times, joked that when she transferred to Columbia in 1984 after her freshman year at Michigan, she “had no idea that Morningside Heights would turn out to be the perfect boot camp for reporting in war zones.”

Leeza Mangaldas ’11, who spoke on behalf of the John Jay Scholars, many of whom attended the dinner, was born in a small fishing village in the Goa, India.  “On the 16-hour plane ride to New York and Columbia, I could see my life was going to change,” she recalled. “Though the rural, sea-salt air made for an idyllic childhood, Columbia University in the City of New York seemed like the glorious antithesis to everything I’d known.” She praised the “astounding eloquence and passion” of Columbia faculty members and said, “At Columbia, the everyday is extraordinary.” An English major with a concentration in visual arts who has held summer internships in Hong Kong and Mumbai, she plans to return to India after graduation and work in the film industry.

Board of Trustees Chair William V. Campbell ’62 welcomed the guests and introduced Columbia College Alumni Association Executive Committee member Kyra Tirana Barry ’87, who thanked those in attendance and announced that the dinner had raised nearly $1.5 million. Dean Michele Moody-Adams recognized two special groups in the audience, calling the faculty “the heart of the institution,” and saying of the students, “All of us are very proud of your accomplishments and look forward to the day you can stand up here as recipients of this award.”

In his remarks, President Lee C. Bollinger said Columbia was at a historical moment in its 257-year history. He noted that the opening of the Northwest Corner interdisciplinary science building completes the original blueprint for the Morningside Heights campus at the same time that the courts have cleared the way for Columbia to create “a new campus for this century” in Manhattanville. “This solves the space problem that Columbia has had for four or five decades,” he said. He also noted that the endowment had outpaced peer institutions by achieving a 17 percent gain last year and that the $4 billion goal of the Columbia Campaign had been reached more than a year early, and got a laugh when he added, “Naturally, we extended the campaign by two years and raised the goal to $5 billion.”

The event, which concluded with renditions of Sans Souci and Roar, Lion, Roar by the Clefhangers, is named for founding father and first secretary of the treasury John Jay (Class of 1764). The John Jay Awards have been presented annually since 1979.