Diverse paths to success were on display at Monday morning’s School of General Studies Class Day ceremony in front of Butler Library.
Class Day speaker Gale Brewer, GS ’97 and Manhattan borough president, encouraged students to remain in New York City and emphasized the important contributions GS students had made in the city.
“I’m here today hoping that many of you will make New York your home, that we’ll have the benefit of your drive, and ideas, and experience,” Brewer said. “That Columbia will be not only your alma mater, but your neighbor and a lifelong asset as it has been for me.”
“One day you may even look around, as I do after 40 years in the trenches, and reflect on the handiwork of a generation that gave all it had in countless ways to recreate again and again this shining city I love,” Brewer said. “You could do worse than to make it your own. But whatever your dream, take your new tools and your ideals, and get to work.”
Brewer, along with GS Dean Peter Awn, University President Lee Bollinger, GS valedictorian Ido Haimi, GS ’14, and GS salutatorian Gabriel Jackson, GS ’14, all spoke about the value of variety in student backgrounds and the importance of Columbia’s community for nontraditional students.
“Whether GS students are dancers, entrepreneurs, or firefighters, Wall Street bankers, or tech wizards, whether they are working parents, or professional models, survivors of medical or professional traumas, whether they are international students or new Americans,” Awn said, “they receive the same superb education as all other Columbia undergraduates.”
Haimi, who was born in Israel and came to Columbia after serving in the Israel Defense Forces and traveling around Latin America, spoke about his experience on campus as a nontraditional, international student.
“We formally introduced ourselves and I was the only science major. To my untrained ear, I was also the only one with a foreign accent. As a first-year student from Israel, this entire scene seemed surreal. Never in my life had I felt so out of place,” he said about his first Contemporary Civilization class. “I was so self-conscious that I completely missed that next to me were a South African journalist, a ballet dancer from Alabama, a Russian computer programmer, and two military veterans.”
“With every second, the differences that I initially perceived to be so real, melted away,” he said.
Jackson, the GS salutatorian and a human rights major, said the diversity of experiences at the school was worthy of admiration.
“I have an incredible amount of respect for those of you who are raising families, working full-time or part-time, or dealing with any of the other challenges that being a nontraditional student presents,” he said. “All of these stories contribute a breadth of wisdom.”
As at Sunday’s Barnard commencement, a group of students wore red tape on their caps to show support for activists who have spent the semester pushing for changes to the University’s sexual assault policies.
Students sporting the tape said that sexual assault was an issue important to all students at the University.
“It’s acknowledging that we all deserve a fair chance and attention for the wrongs that happen to us and hopefully education to keep them from happening,” Kasey Lockwood, GS ’14, who wore red tape, said.
“It’s making a statement to stand together about sexual assault. It’s about unity throughout the schools. It’s a big issue for me and all women and men,” Bri Reitano, GS ’14, who also wore red tape, said.
Graduates said they were pleased with the selection of Brewer as the speaker, given her accomplishments and local involvement.
Lassina Ouattara, GS ’14, said he was inspired by Brewer.
“The fact that she was a GS alumna, that she gave the speech to us at our graduation, makes me want to come back someday for another graduation,” Ouattara said. “I’m already in New York here so I’m planning to stay here for a while.”
“I was taken with Gale Brewer. She is unconventional for the amount of success that she has had,” Tamika Jackson, GS ’14, said.
The sunny ceremony ended, and graduates and their families moved to Avery Plaza for a reception, posing for pictures along the way. There were smiles all around, with ample hugs and pats on the back.