George Van Amson CC’74, Columbia University trustee emeritus, inveterate mentor to students and alumni and longtime Wall Street executive, was honored with the 2023 Alexander Hamilton Medal on November 16 at a standing-room-only black-tie dinner in Low Rotunda. Van Amson, the managing director of institutional equity sales and trading at Morgan Stanley, is currently the head of The Americas Analyst and Associate Advising and Development Programs in Morgan Stanley’s Institutional Equity Division.
The medal — given for distinguished service and accomplishment in any field of endeavor — is the highest honor awarded to a member of the Columbia College community, and the Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner is one of the College’s signature fundraising dinners. This year’s proceeds of more than $1.1 million will benefit College students by supporting the Core Curriculum and financial aid.
Remarks honoring Van Amson were given by Sherri Pancer Wolf CC’90, president of the Columbia College Alumni Association; trustees co-chair and 2022 Hamilton Medal recipient Claire C. Shipman CC’86, SIPA’94; Dean Josef Sorett; and President Minouche Shafik, who was attending the dinner for the first time. Van Amson’s family, including his wife, Wendy PH’83, celebrated his achievements along with nine previous Hamilton honorees, alumni, faculty, students, friends and other guests; the lively program featured multiple references to Hamilton, Van Amson’s favorite show.
Sorett spoke of Van Amson’s early encounters with Columbia as a Brooklyn Tech H.S. student living in the Throgg’s Neck Houses in the Bronx. “The intellectual spirit of the campus in vivid display must have appealed to him,” Sorett said. “It was 1969, and the tensions of the era were being dealt with as students and faculty, together, interrogated the structures and ethics of the world around them.
“It is to the institution’s enduring benefit that both parties recognized something in each other. When Columbia extended an opportunity to George, he not only seized it, he made the place better for it and continues to do so.”
A congratulatory video honoring Van Amson’s accomplishments included remarks from Shafik, former University President Lee C. Bollinger and former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. CC’73, LAW’76, among others. Later, Van Amson’s children, Alexandra CC’13, Victoria CC’15 and Schuyler CC’17, introduced a second, more personal video about their father.
As a special honor, Van Amson’s dear friend Ted Gregory CC’74 appeared onscreen at the end of the evening to sing a moving a capella version of “New York State of Mind,” with harmonies by the Kingsmen. The group closed the program with “Sans Souci” and “Roar, Lion, Roar.”
An economics major at the College, Van Amson is a 45-year Wall Street veteran with expertise in domestic and international markets as well as in organizational leadership. He earned an M.B.A. with honors from Harvard Business School in 1982.
As an undergraduate, Van Amson was the president of his first-year and sophomore classes, a varsity football and baseball player, a leader of Alpha Phi Alpha and an active member of the Black Students Organization. In addition to being a trustee emeritus, he remains connected to Columbia as a chair emeritus of the Columbia Alumni Association. He is also the director of Community Impact, a service organization that sends student volunteers into New York City neighborhoods, and has also been on the Columbia College Board of Visitors. Van Amson was honored with a 2000 John Jay Award for distinguished professional achievement, a 2009 Columbia Alumni Achievement Award and a 2013 Varsity C Alumni Athletic Award.
After receiving the Hamilton Medal, Van Amson gave a rousing speech that referenced the power and reach of the Lions community (“in every room where it happens”); his deep gratitude for the opportunities and experiences the College provided; and his commitment to encouraging those same rewards to future generations of Columbians.
“Columbia offered me a diversity of experiences, planting in me a better understanding of equity, and made me feel absolutely included,” he said. “And from the outset, Columbia affirmed me by positive action. I am grateful. I am grateful that, in 1969, the educators and administrators of Hamilton Hall and Low Library had been increasingly awakened, awoken, woke, to the foundational importance and urgency of diversity, of equity, of inclusion. And to act affirmatively in providing opportunity.
“That opportunity, that chance, gave me my life. In the quiet moments of solitude and thought, I pray that every young person has that same opportunity, so that the kids from Watts or Washington, D.C., the girl from Jacksonville or Jamaica, Queens, the boy from Richmond or Roxbury, the youngsters from Bed-Stuy or Birmingham, can one day stand in this magnificent rotunda of Low Memorial Library with hearts and minds enlarged by education and give thanks, much like a kid from the Bronx.”