Nicolas Lama CC’24 Is Class Day 2024 Student Speaker

Thursday, May 9, 2024
Nicolas Lama CC’24

The Class of 2024 has had an unusual College journey, four years bookended by the pandemic and the more recent campus protests. But as Class Day speaker Nicolas Lama CC’24 observes, through all the turbulent waters — including quite literally the intense summer rainstorm that fell during their Convocation as second-years — they’ve learned to swim.

Lama, who studied economics, political science and East Asian studies, will impart a message of wisdom and resilience to his classmates on Tuesday, May 14.

“As much as one might like to plan, or prepare, or envision, life is filled with uncertainty,” Lama writes. “It’s inescapable. Like the storm that poured down from the floodgates of the sky that day, it will rain down on you, whether you like it or not. Thankfully, Columbia College has prepared us.”

Lama’s winning speech reflects on the lessons his class has learned and how he says that Columbia has shown him, time and time again, “that in uncertainty, there is always opportunity.”

“Life is never-ending movement, and that’s the beauty of it. But as we’ve all learned during these last four years together, sometimes you have to embrace its uncertainty to find it.”

Lama, an environmental activist from West Palm Beach, Fla., is well versed in the ways of water. He grew up surfing, kayaking and snorkeling, which he says fostered a deep connection to nature and a desire to do his part to protect the planet. “Coming of age in a time where the climate crisis has been such an urgent threat, I’ve wanted to do whatever I can to use my passion and experiences toward helping to address it,” he says.

Lama became an environmental advocate in high school, organizing community events and hosting trainings on conservation advocacy; those experiences helped to steer him toward the College. “It really showed me the power of using your voice, and when I was deciding where I wanted to go to school, I saw Columbia as a place that has shaped so many of our nation’s leaders — from Alexander Hamilton [CC 1778] to Eric H. Holder Jr. [CC’73, LAW’76] to Ruth Bader Ginsburg [LAW’59],” he says.

Though he has missed being able to surf every day, Lama has been happy to be in New York City. “It’s such a capital for international policymaking,” he says. “By virtue of being a Columbia student, I’ve had many opportunities to get involved with nonprofits doing conservation work and participate in processes and events at the United Nations. So many people here care about the same issues that you do, so there’s a real sense of community.” Lama is a member of the Youth Leadership Council of the environmental nonprofit EarthEcho International.

He became part of the campus community as well. Lama was recognized with a 2023 Leadership and Excellence Award in Civic Responsibility; he’s also both the managing editor of the Columbia Political Review and co-chair of the Student Advisory Board for the Eric H. Holder Jr. Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. “My extracurricular experiences opened my eyes to the importance of elevating the topic of environmental justice, the important intersection between environmental threats and social justice issues,” he says. “That’s what really drew me to join the Holder Initiative during my time at the College. The Initiative, led by the wonderful Beth Manchester, offers undergraduates so much support to pursue the projects and programming we are passionate about bringing to campus.” Earlier this spring, Lama hosted a climate justice panel that discussed the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on marginalized communities, and his own work supporting historic youth-led climate litigation in the United States.

He has found a great mentor in Michael Gerrard CC’72, the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice at the Law School and the founder and faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “I took two classes with Professor Gerrard about energy regulation and climate policy that were incredibly fascinating to me. He is such an inspiring person,” Lama says. “Knowing he went to the College himself and forged such an impactful career dedicated to making a difference for our planet has been a primary motivation for my own trajectory.”

Lama says he is proud to have been selected as the student speaker and looks forward to representing the Class of 2024 at Class Day. This fall, hoping to follow in Gerrard’s footsteps, Lama is headed to Stanford Law School. “My plan is to study environmental law and climate change law — that’s what interests me the most,” he says.

“And I’m excited to be in California. The surfing is good there.”

Posted in: