NAACP President Ben Jealous Is CC Class Day Speaker

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Photo via NAACP

The youngest-ever president of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, CC ’94, will be speaking at Columbia College’s Class Day. At a celebration tonight in Havana Central’s back room, Class Council 2010 President Cliff Massey revealed Jealous’s selection after weeks of speculation that saw names floated including Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan

Jealous, who was involved with the BSO and several other student groups while on campus,  got his B.A. in political science at Columbia before heading to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar for his Master’s in comparative social research. He has worked at the Rosenberg Foundation, Amnesty International, and the National Newspaper Publishing Association. He was among the 2009 honorees for the John Jay Award, given every year to an alum of the College for his or her distinguished professional career.

Massey expressed excitement over the choice, telling Bwog, “Since he graduated sixteen years ago, he’s faced similar challenges to the ones the Class of 2010 will face soon,” citing Jealous’s work in health care litigation and social justice issues. CC Dean Michele Moody-Adams wrote in a press release, “Benjamin Todd Jealous wonderfully personifies the value that Columbians have long placed on active engagement in the world and in finding the solutions to society’s challenges. We will be proud to welcome him back to Morningside Heights.”

Massey also told Bwog that the Class Day committee’s original shortlist also included actress Anna Paquin (who studied at Columbia for a year) and President Barack Obama. Though Obama was the most popular choice among students, the security measures required for a presidential visit (such as the Secret Service securing several Res Halls while students were still living in them) made an invite impossible. SEAS and GS, the ball’s in your court. Full Columbia press release after the jump.


“NEW YORK, March 24, 2010 — Columbia College announced today that Ben Jealous (CC‘94), president and CEO of the NAACP, will deliver the keynote address at this year’s Class Day ceremony, the annual event honoring graduating seniors. This year’s ceremony will take place on the morning of Monday, May 17, on the South Lawn of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus.

Elected to his position in 2008, Jealous is the 17th and youngest-ever president of the NAACP — the nation’s champion of social justice, public service and human rights, now celebrating its century anniversary.

“Columbia’s undergraduate experience is built on the idea that our college must not only help students develop their capacities for critical thinking, but also nurture in them the responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society,” said Dean Michele Moody-Adams. “Benjamin Todd Jealous wonderfully personifies the value that Columbians have long placed on active engagement in the world and in finding the solutions to society’s challenges. We will be proud to welcome him back to Morningside Heights.”

While a student at Columbia, Jealous sought the guidance of acclaimed civil rights lawyer Jack Greenberg (CC’45, L’48), who served as dean of Columbia College from 1989-93 and is currently a professor and Vice Dean at Columbia Law School. With Greenberg’s help, Jealous secured an internship with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), for which he later served as a community organizer in Harlem.

On campus, Jealous led movements in support of homeless rights, full-need financial aid and need-blind admissions. A battle over environmental justice eventually led to his suspension from Columbia University.

After returning to Columbia College and earning a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1994, Jealous went on to earn a master’s degree in comparative social research from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

He has served as president of the Rosenberg Foundation, director of the U.S. Human Rights Program at Amnesty International, and executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), an organization made up of more than 200 independent historically black and black-owned newspapers.

At Amnesty International, he led efforts to protect human rights in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, and while at the NNPA he rebuilt the organization’s national news service and significantly increased the online presence of black newspapers. Over the course of his career, Jealous has become renowned for his commitment to human rights.”

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  1. I guess...

    He was probably the second to the last person I wanted to speak on the short list...Oh well, It's better than Matthew Fox

  2. well...


  3. ugh  

    not impressed ... what a letdown

  4. Anonymous  

    matthew fox was actually great...

  5. ok  

    terrible idea to let this guy talk. naacp is a special interest group.

    • Anonymous  

      "The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination."

      I don't see what's wrong with that.

  6. Anonymous  


  7. Well  

    he _is_ a CC alumnus.

  8. Anonymous  

    that's a let down... They better get a great speaker for my graduation.

  9. not a letdown  

    great choice, looking forward to graduating with him!

  10. cant wait to be out of here  

    so weak... just the icing on the cake. cant wait to be out of here!

  11. weak sauce  

    wow. I am thoroughly let down. wow. thanks, columbia. a last slap in the face.

  12. unhappy senior  

    this was the best we could do? really??? god ...

  13. apathetic seniors  


  14. CC '09  

    Should have followed the model used by CCSC 2009, Eric Holder was a pretty popular pick backed by a majority of the senior class in voting... plus by not releasing the top five before we had a confirmation the class council avoided the let down. Sometimes it makes sense to listen to advice.

    That said Ben Jealous is an incredible figure that will make an awesome figure. In terms of importance he just pales in comparison to Kofi Annan or Bill Clinton, my guess is he was third choice.

  15. senior  

    This is just an insult to our time here at Columbia.

  16. Anonymous  


  17. waaaaaaah  

    i'm an entitled columbia student who feels that the youngest ever president of a historic national organization, who has also has extensive experience in the non-profit world, and was a rhodes scholar is such a terrible let down. waaaaaaaaah. this is an insult to my honor, dignity, and pride! boo hoo.

  18. Anonymous  

    Way to make it sound like the only reason why Obama wouldn't agree to do Commencement is because of security reasons.

  19. Anonymous  

    Way to make it sound like the only reason why Obama wouldn't agree to do Class Day is because of security reasons.

  20. haha  

    super lame. happy im not graduating this year

  21. Anonymous  

    embarrassed to go to columbia. good job cliff.

  22. Anonymous  

    you guys sound like brats

  23. senior  

    you all are jackasses. i am shocked and upset that i go to school with you people--I can't believe you're calling it 'disgraceful' that Jealous was picked--that, in my opinion, is disgraceful.

  24. yeah  

    You guys sound like serious brats. Not a single commenter has actually said WHY this guy is a "letdown," but I'm assuming it's because he's not famous enough for you. Get over yourselves.

  25. frank white  

    Can't say I'm surprised. Columbia young blackness is really in vogue--Obama, Holder, Paterson...and Jealous, apparently.

    That said, one need not be a "jackass" to lament the political character of this decision. There are plenty of more qualified, more interesting people whose non-profit work isn't *explicitly* of a racial character. I think the guy does good work but not good enough for the honor of speaking to my white ass.

    • astounded junior

      are you fucking kidding me? "not good enough for the honor of speaking to my white ass?" Who would merit speaking to your "white ass?" I'm going to nominate Ace Ventura's white ass. As he'll tell you himself, he might be in need of a breath mint, but I think you two just might have a lot in common.

      I say take your "white ass" back to whatever cave out of which you crawled, because you sure as hell don't speak for my white ass.

      To this crop of seniors acting like getting a distinguished Class Day speaker is on par with getting smacked in the face with a cold fish: Good. Fucking. Riddance.

  26. frank white  

    ...and this just underscores the convention that we are all a bunch of racially obsessed, PC pussies who do things based first and foremost on skin color.

    Patronizing? Yes. This is why I hate student government.

  27. :-(  

    Ugh. This is such a disappointment. He was the LAST person I wanted from the list. Every other person would have been about a thousand times more exciting than this person.

  28. wow ppl  

    Really? You're really going to complain about Ben Jealous as your class day speaker? He's the youngest president of the NAACP ever, he's accomplished more in his life already at the age of 37 than 99% of you ever will, and one look at his background will tell you he knows how to give a speech. Meryl Streep's a fine actress, and she'll probably give a good speech, but just because you're more obsessed with Hollywood and popular culture than civil rights doesn't mean that the former is an automatically more interesting life than the latter.

    More importantly, what's most disappointing about these comments is that it's full of people assuming "well, if I haven't heard of him, he must suck." Most colleges would be honored to have this man speak at their graduation. It's sad that, after 4 years at a supposedly enlightened institution, the Class of 2010 can have so many self-centered "adults" who just want another excuse to whine about how they never get exactly what they want.

  29. well  

    he just better have an amazing speech. that's all I have to say. you can all say that we're a bunch of brats for wanting someone "famous" but guess what, last year people complained too and the Klein's speech was mediocre. so if we're not going to have someone famous that makes us squeal with glee, then he BEST knock me on my fucking ass with that speech. if he does, I'll take all of my "bratty" comments and sentiments back.

    Jealous—the pressure is on.

  30. also  

    cliff's speech is going to be super cheesy and it's going to suck. I guarantee it. What a marvelous class day we're going to have...

  31. abe lincoln

    he doesn't even look black

  32. I KNOW  

    that this is totally douchy. but moody-adams gets to choose ...she chooses the least interesting person on the short list, who happens to be a black guy. come on...clinton?! sotomayor?! would've been awesome.

    • huh  

      have you ever thought that these other candidates may have scheduling conflicts? the supreme court is in session in may. i dont think they can take a day off because a bunch of whiny college kids want them to.

    • ehh

      clinton is WAY overdone and i suspect really not that hard to get a hold of, so long as your willing to throw down the cash... so i'm sort of glad we didn't have him.. seriously he speaks at SO many engagements now its ridic like my grandma has seen him prob 3 times

  33. frank white  

    Plus, Sotomayor is a fucking New York native. She was a no-brainer. Instead we get the guy who protested street pollution in manhattanville or some shit that makes you student activists have wet dreams... show me someone who says this wasn't politically motivated and i'll show you a liar. There is a difference between having a public servant and having a public lobbyist speak at graduation.

  34. WOW  

    I'm honestly embarrassed to share a school with people who react like this to a wonderful man lending his time to speak at graduation. You guys certainly should be the ones ashamed of yourselves.

  35. Disappointed  

    This is really disappointing and embarrassing. It should not be that hard to get a great speaker- every other school does it, and we're in NYC. I don't even want to go to Class Day anymore.

  36. OK

    this sucks...never even heard of Ben Jealous...At least I've heard of Michael Fox and Julia Stiles is a dam good actor

  37. Anonymous  

    columbia is officially filled with a bunch of snotty kids who need to get over themselves. dude seems like he's done some impressive shit, more than most of you & your parents can say for yourselves. the only "embarassing" thing about this pick is the reaction of our student body.

  38. Anonymous

    The problem is CC affiliation is mandatory. Barnard doesn't have that rule so they get all the good people. :P

  39. WOW  

    Wow, Columbians, WOW. Your heads, out of your asses, get them - stat!

    (Sincere apologies to those Columbians wise enough to appreciate the awesome things the privilege of their education brings them.)

  40. True

    "The problem is CC affiliation is mandatory. Barnard doesn’t have that rule so they get all the good people. :P"

    And I'm pretty sure that Meryl Streep and H. Clinton would have chosen Columbia over Barnard anyways if they wanted to come to study in Morningside Heights

  41. Anonymous  

    i'm certainly not JEALOUS that JEALOUS is speaking, whattup!!

  42. 1R

    I'm so excited for this. Haven't you heard enough famous or "renowned" diplomats and politicians speak over the past four years? Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan are affiliated with Columbia and have spoken here before; they'll speak here again. Both have given good/powerful/whatever speeches in the past, and will continue to do so -- but they can say next to _nothing_ about what it means to go to Columbia or to be a student in our generation. Ben Jealous, on the other hand, is accomplished in a way we should aspire to be, is so much more likely to know what is relevant to those of us graduating from this school right now, and has a better chance of saying something meaningful than most of the others on the list could.

    And as for those who claim that the NAACP is a "special interest group", I'll guess that you're joking. Because civil rights and social justice are matters of "special interest", right?

    The racism of many of these comments just underscores the need for organizations like the NAACP...

  43. well  

    I'm sure ben is an amazing person, but he was doomed from the beginning when cliff massey et al listed him along with much bigger names in the possible speakers list. This is cliff's fault.

  44. Dissapointed  

    in the politics involvedw ith this decision. What a divisive figure? What was Cliff thinking?

  45. Anonymous  

    For whatever it's worth, he gave a pretty great speech last year at the John Jay dinner. I'm excited to see what he brings to Class Day.

  46. True

    if anything, we should impeach cliff for the remainder of his tenure here at Columbia

  47. Why do liberals...

    "And as for those who claim that the NAACP is a “special interest group”, I’ll guess that you’re joking. Because civil rights and social justice are matters of “special interest”, right?

    The racism of many of these comments just underscores the need for organizations like the NAACP…"

    Why do liberals in general, I'm speaking about healthcare reform too, always play the racism card when someone says something in contrast to their opinions

    Seriously, just cause we don't like Mr. Jealous speaking does not mean we're racist

    • probably  

      because there IS some racism involved if you can't sit back and appreciate the dude for what he's done.

      • ?

        you can appreciate SOME of what he's done, aka. his racial justice work, and still oppose his political opinions. He is a very liberal figure that forwards a political and often polemical message. Obama is very liberal too, but he is our president and famous enough to get away with it. Plus we know he is an excellent speaker so no one would care. If Obama came to talk specifically on racial justice people still wouldn't care because most people at Columbia are not racist, especially not overtly enough to oppose it. Racial justice is a vital matter that merits a speech, i don't find it divisive or political. Jealous may be president of NAACP (and yay! that's great) but it is his other shit that people are unhappy with. Everyone loves the NAACP (or no one at least is willing to say otherwise) not everyone is for protesting manhattanville this and that.

        • probably  

          Ah, see, I think you have a much slimmer definition of "racism" than you need.

          "Racism" is not exclusively conscious.

          "Racism" is not exclusively overt.

          "Racism" is institutional in a big way, and it absolutely can be unintentional.

          If you accuse liberals of pulling "the racist card," implying that protest against racism can be reduced to a political cause used to gain elbow room in a particular instance, or if you refuse to respect the accomplishments of a man who represents one of the foremost anti-racism organizations on the planet because you wish you'd gotten for your Class Day speaker someone whose views were more conservative, then you've just done something racist. We don't always get what we want, but if we're in the position that we are (Ivy League students at the pinnacle of world education) then we had damn well better respect that which we are given.

          • ? again  

            thank you for the lesson on racism. but guess what, I received the same education as you so it was quite unnecessary. I do not want someone more conservative either. And my ability to understand someone who would want someone more centrist does not make me racist or conservative, it makes me reasonable and considerate. I am probably a more active social justice proponent than you are, but that doesn't mean that every single person who does not want a far left representative speaking at class day is evil or racist. It is just insulting and it really lowers the level of debate. Everyone will be scared of ever saying anything if their opinions will always be reduced to embarrassing barbarities.

            And I would appreciate in the future if you do not patronize the intelligence of your equals by shoving the most basic definitions of terms in their faces like you were enlightening the masses to their utter foolishness. I have had years of study on the term racism thank you very much.

          • probably  

            Well I'm glad you think yourself a superior proponent of social justice!

            Personally, I would appreciate if in the future you could make your superiority more apparent from the beginning of the discussion.

            Honestly though, if people are going to be "scared" of getting called racist, maybe they need to come to terms with how racism isn't a nasty word exclusive to the KKK and other hate crime atrocities, it's a practical, day-to-day reality. If someone tells you you're being racist because to them you come off as being racist - well DAMN guess what that makes you? I don't deny you have a valid point, but I do think you're skipping over mine.

      • frank white  

        fallacious argument.

        i don't want him here for the same reason I (and you) don't want the president of the NRA here.

  48. blah  

    heard this guy speak at the John Jay Dinner a year ago- this guy HATED columbia and in fact was suspended i believe several times. a bunch of us found him quite arrogant at the dinner. WHAT A LETDOWN. columbia, comon, you lost to barnard?????

  49. You guys..  

    he is actually pretty young and probably reading this.. what a horrible impression to leave.. you should be ashamed of yourself CC 2010.

  50. you guys totally  

    just proved the rest of the world ivies are full of fucking elitist snobs. I'm really ashamed of this, you guys don't even deserve to have him as a speaker.
    I hope pigeons shit on all you at commencement.

  51. Ben Jealous

    Black Vince Vaughan? Anyone?

  52. Anonymous  

    Cliff is a good guy and a good class president; stop with the completely needless personal attacks. I'm excited to hear Jealous speak! He's accomplished some pretty impressive stuff and he actually went here. Should be a cool speech.

  53. Argh

    it is like if in 15 years one of the hunger strike people are asked to speak for their great achievements while on campus...

  54. shit  

    we should have went for the most controversial. Sotomayor would have been great

  55. 2009 Alum

    Glad I graduated in 2009. We had one of the best class day speakers!

  56. cc '08 grad

    jealous y'all got jealous!!! But Cliff M., I love you, you were always such a great hall mate with a great personality!!!

  57. class day speaker might not be so bad  

    when john mccain gave the class day speech a few years back he was "just" a senator, turns out he was a big deal when he "almost" became president. who knows, jealous might be a big shot one day.

    that isn't to say clinton or sotomayor wouldn't have been preferred. too bad clinton was no longer available since he's speaking at yale. and the argument about the spurme court being in sesion is no good since justice souter is speaking at harvard's class day.

    good one cc 2010.

  58. wow  

    i guess i had an inkling to begin with, but we've got a depressingly snobby, privileged, and perhaps even racist student body. glad to see c/o 2010 go after reading these comments.

  59. 100th Comment!!  

    My president is black,
    so is my speaker
    alls I'm saying
    Im proud to be an Amrrican!

  60. seriously guys  

    I think Jealous is an awesome choice. So what if he's not some famous actor/actress or a politician with a big name. He's done a lot in his lifetime and without him, I guess we wouldn't even be here, some with full financial aid, many more as minorities. 2010 should just congratulate itself for a great 4 year's of hard work, an awesome speaker, and a commencement to look forward to.

  61. ?

    "My president is a socialist,
    Never heard of my speaker
    alls I’m saying is
    Im not proud to be a Columbian!"

  62. Anonymous  


  63. ...  

    where did all these right wing/racist trolls come from? seem to be a new presence on the bwog comment board...

  64. Well  

    The disappointment pretty much boils down to the fact that Ben Jealous isn't that famous or well known to the average person. This means that graduating seniors can't brag to friends and family that they had a famous person speak at their graduation with out having to show Ben Jealous' Wikipedia page to them.

  65. Anonymous  

    They shouldn't have announced the short list. Period.

  66. Um  

    Did we even get a chance to vote for anyone? Neither I nor any of the seniors I have asked remember being asked to nominate or vote for any speakers.
    Did the class council just do a shitty job of letting people know when/where seniors could vote, or did they just not give us a chance to vote at all?

  67. Anonymous  

    hah he looks like he's posing for Law and Order... just about as famous as he'll ever get

  68. Anonymous  

    Choosing a new black dean for the college and a black class day speaker seems to coincide with Columbia usurping Manhattanville for its own gains far to conspicuously. I'm happy to hear him speak because he is very accomplished, but we all have to admit he was not anyone's number one choice.

    • what on earth are you talking about  

      whenever you choose black people for things it's just to fill the black people quota waaah it's not like we actually want them waaaah

      i know you think that's not what you're saying but seriously, read what you wrote again. you make me sick.

  69. Typical liberal argument

    "where did all these right wing/racist trolls come from? seem to be a new presence on the bwog comment board…"

    Calling right wings who don't agree with them racists...just cuz some teapartiers may be bigots, does not mean all those who are conservative are...

    By assuming the contrary you are the one being ignorant

  70. SEAS

    I'm so glad I'm in SEAS. Our class day speaker may not be as well known or well spoken, but at least I won't be standing next to all these CC d'bags when I graduate.

  71. oh jeez  

    anyone who thinks the naacp has "nothing to do with them" is completely ignorant about race in america. case closed.

  72. doesn't  

    mean he's not still a complete twerp

  73. seriously....  


  74. Beyond Disappointed

    This is another example of the government-loving, non-profit seeking liberal mentality on this campus. Columbia and its faculty outside the economics department act like working for government and working at non-profits is some kind of holy endeavor. Every speaker is the same, some education secretary or political official.

    Jealous is a purely special interest speaker. He was involved with the BSO, black community newspapers, NAACP etc. That is great, and I have nothing against it, but it does not speak to the culmination of our education, rooted in the Classics and in a city much more diverse than strictly black and white.

    What about people who make their own money, don't rely on donations like a non-profit or tax dollars to fund their career? If it were not for the creators, inventors, entertainers, business people, pharmaceutical researchers then there would be nothing to tax and no one to donate. People like Jealous exist because of the hard work of others. That said, the fact that this whole system can work is thanks to the great political institution of America, so why not bring someone who respects that institution and is devoted to its greatness, not just the special interest of one of its minority groups.

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