Girl, Acclaimed: 2007 Valedictorian Claire Lackner

Written by

We told you a few weeks ago about Claire Lackner, the quiet physics major who came out on top in this year’s GPA parade. This weekend, Bwog sat her down for a study break to chat about Mexican food, facebook, and looking at Mars.

kjhThe salutatorian gives a speech, but what does the valedictorian do?

As far as I know the Valedictorian does nothing except sit up on stage with everybody on class day, which is nice because it means that if it rains there’s a tent, and I won’t get wet. Other than that, I don’t think there’s anything. 

How did you find out that you were valedictorian? 

They sent me an email. I knew I was being considered – Professor Blaer told me in December that he would be nominating me, but I got an email two weeks ago right before everyone found out when somebody posted it on the Bwog. 

Did you do anything to celebrate? 

I think it must have been a Thursday night, which means I was probably working on a quantum problem set, so no. Plenty of time to celebrate after everything’s done. 

Do people treat you differently now that you’re valedictorian? 

I don’t know how many people know – I guess a lot of people read the Bwog and know through that, but because I don’t have my Facebook profile up there’s no face-name association. 

Yeah, a lot of people with the best GPAs don’t seem to have Facebook – something like 40% of the people initiated into Phi Beta Kappa…


[Laughs] I actually do have a Facebook profile. It’s just set to hidden, and I don’t check it very often. So there is no real secret to not having a Facebook – I don’t use it; maybe that’s the real secret. 

You know the rumor about the owl and Alma Mater, right? Have you looked for it? 

I’ve seen it, actually. My Dad is a professor, so I’d been here and seen it before being a student. 

So you may actually have been one of the first people to find it in your class? 

[Laughs] Yeah, possibly. 

Your dad’s an engineering professor – any reason you picked CC instead of SEAS? 

I had no desire to be an engineer, and I also really liked the Core before I came and even now as I’m finishing, dragging my feet and writing my last paper, I still like the Core. I got a lot out of it – I got to meet a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met and do a lot of different things, so it’s been really good.  

I did a little Googling and found out that you’ve been doing a ton of different research projects. Could you tell me a bit about them? 

Before I started school here, I worked at the Lamont Earth Observatory on cosmogenic nuclides. The amount of these nuclides can tell you how long the rock has been exposed to the surface, so we were using those to look at when glaciers last came through. The next summer, I worked at JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] in California on Mars geology, looking at gullies. And then for the past two summers, I’ve been working in the robotics lab here in the engineering school under Professor Peter Allen doing simulations of robotic grasping.  

There was something about going to France… 

Part of the robotics lab is that they have a big laser that can go around and do 360 degree models. The Art History department is interested in looking at these Romanesque churches in the Bourbonnais in France, and they want these three dimensional models of the church because it’s really easy for them to do architectural sections and all sorts of interesting things with them. They needed somebody to go, and they needed somebody who spoke a little French. I speak a tiny bit of French, and I wanted to go. That was a lot of fun and an interesting experience, but it wasn’t really directly related to my research at all. It was just like “Hey, you’re here. Let’s go.” 

Are you going to be studying physics at Princeton? 

I’m a physics major, but I will be doing astrophysics next year. I’ve wanted to do that since I was a little kid. I took a cosmology class last semester and I really liked that, so continuing probably on that strain – I’m interested in doing large-scale structure and dark matter stuff.  

What’s been your favorite class? Least favorite? 

I don’t even know – there have been a couple of physics courses that I did not like at all. On the flip side, I really liked my freshman physics class – 2800. 

What do you do outside of academics? 

I do the Rabi stuff, and I do a lot of stuff with that in terms of recruitment and everything. What else? I guess not that much. I’ve done SPS and UMS. I go home a lot because I live close by, so I do stuff there. I play a lot of piano to keep me grounded. I like Beethoven a lot, and Bach. Very classic and cliché, but what can I say? I don’t know – I like going out. My friend’s a complete foodie, so we go out to nice restaurants a lot. 

Do you have a favorite Morningside restaurant? 

This is disgusting, but I really like Tacqueria.  

What are your general plans for the future? 

Completely academic track. It could change, but that’s the big plan right now. There’s part of me that – well, I’m planning on astrophysics, but I really like the robotics stuff a lot. I wouldn’t be completely surprised if I ended up going back and doing that from an industry perspective, but certainly right now it’s the post-doc, professorship, tenure-track kind of idea. 

Any words of wisdom? 

No, I don’t know. Work hard, have fun. 

– Alec Turnbull


Tags: ,


  1. wow  

    what a nice and normal girl -- congrats on being valedictorian Claire!

    • huh  

      nice and normal?
      as though valedictorians have a habit of being jerks and strange?
      or you just expected her to be some nerdy dweeb girl because shes a physics major?
      what kind of comment is that? "oh you're so normal!"

      • dear lord

        maybe valedictorians don't have the habit of being jerks and strange, but many people EXPECT them to, and I think commenter #1 was responding to that expectation.

        way to pick a fight over nothing. claire sounds really cool...

  2. CML  

    Claire played piano in my studio with Michael Skelly. She is far better than I am. Fucking awesome!

  3. SAY WHAT  


  4. oh yea  

    i meant to add a hearty fuck you to that too.
    fuck you.

  5. bitch  

    bitch why is tacqueria disgusting?!?!?!?!?!

  6. its kinda gross...  

    so is the taco truck on college walk right now
    but the best mexican food is the gross kind. go get you some!

  7. wow  

    (tacqueria IS disgussting) but wow this girl is a genius.

  8. claire  

    you are my hero.

  9. ooooh  

    oooooooh, THAT's her. I had no idea. I see her all the time. I hear she's a nice girl and deserves it, so go Claire! Whoo!

  10. calm down  

    i think the point was that it's refreshing to find someone who's talented but also humble

    bitter much?

  11. oh god  

    she even likes tacqueria? i'm in love. i'm seriously in love with claire lackner.

  12. i think  

    she's adorable. (and no, i'm not her friend. i've never met her.)

  13. is claire  

    sure that she doesn't get to speak? i distinctly remember of past valedictorians speaking at class day or at least pictures that looked like they were speaking to an audience.

  14. woo!  

    way to go claire!

  15. claire's awesome  

    i really wish i could overhear her conversation with matthew fox.

  16. Sprinkles  

    Claire seems really great. I'm glad to see someone humble get it, and not a typical Columbia self-important tool. Congrats Claire!

  17. Anonymous  

    I'm probably not smart enough to comprehend her smartness. she sounds really nice though. congrats, claire.

  18. DHI  

    Go fuck ya'llselves, Taqueria is delicious, and people whose discussion of food centers around its "cleanliness" or whatever don't understand food.

  19. dos con queso  

    truth in kingship. taq es muy sabroso, guero!

  20. Conspiracy Theorist  

    Is it just me, or do professors' kids seem to be getting picked for valedictorian/salutatorian pretty often?
    Klagge, Galil, Lackner, etc?

    Still, its probably just an interesting correlation.

  21. well...  

    i admit this is a huge generalization (so there's no reason to bite my head off for saying this): the children of academics tend to be a pretty smart, driven bunch because a) parents always try to provide their kids with the best education possible and b) academics is probably the realm in which the children of professors have to "succeed" in order to gain their parents approval.

  22. ...  

    so no i don't think there's a conspiracy to award these to children of profs, but i'm sure that it doesn't hurt one's case

    congrats to claire. she sounds like a brilliant young woman

  23. hmmm  

    I'm sure being a Columbia prof's child gives you a leg up in the gene pool.

  24. meh...  

    she seems amazing. I wish I were that intelligent and grounded.

  25. what happened  

    to the missing comment from Big Mike?

  26. aah  

    she is so cute and pretty in real life,this photo does her no justice

  27. it's  

    not that it doesn't do her justice but is rather just a bad photo, both blurry and tilted so as to be 'artsy.' but yea she is cute.

  28. thinking

    does this determining valedictorian by gpa thing not seem fair? it seems to privelege people whose grades can be determined by number scores (like physics majors). on the other hand, i am a humanities major and it would be impossible for me to ever score 100% on anything. and since some people (no idea how) get over 4.0s at this school because of all their A+'s accrued from acing engineering/physics/whatever tests, there's no way i, as a humanities major whose grades are determined subjectively and not objectively, could be valedictorian. not that my grades are at that level in the first place, but just saying...

    • dont knock physics  

      actually, the physics classes here are some of the hardest. the curve is not good, and getting C's is fairly common. the average on our classical mechanics midterm was in the 30's, and in 2800, her "favorite class", the averages were also pretty low.

      im not saying that the curve wasn't nice. it's just that to get ahead you are competing with the best. anyone who has taken christ for 2800 knows this...

      and last year's valedictorian was also a physics major...

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.