May

20

CC Class Day 2011: Questions, Money, and No Protests

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Peter Sterne was there!

Elizabeth Lyon, the salutatorian, was first up to the mic. She began by invoking Meno to explain why she did poorly in LitHum: she knew she couldn’t solve the big problems so she avoided confronting them, which didn’t jibe with her professor. Eventually, she realized that Columbians should still wrestle with these seemingly-futile Core questions even though they can never solve them, since the struggle itself gives students new outlooks on the world.

Next, keynote speaker, Alexandra Wallace Creed, CC ’88 and executive producer of NBC Nightly News, took the stage. She joked that students did not expect her to be Sean Udell’s first choice of Class Day speaker, telling the audience, “I’m sure when you heard the speaker was from NBC News, you thought Brian Williams or Tom Brokaw” and upon hearing Udell’s choice, thought, ‘Alex Wallace—who’s he?'” Creed recounted her path to journalism, which started with asking her Kindergarten teacher questions like “What’s below the ocean floor?” and culminated in her impulsive decision to head to London for a year before applying to law school. In London, she “went around door-to-door with my resumé—I don’t recommend that,” but eventually found work in CBS News and never went back to law school. Being a journalist, she says, has allowed her to do what she loves: ask questions and go “to places [her] mother told her to stay away from,” including “drug dealers’ houses—for research!”

MiMoo’s followed by discussing the importance of respectful debate at Columbia. “Over forty years after the protests of the 60s and 70s,” she asserted, “Columbia has begun to shed its image as a place where serious debate must yield to violence.” Instead, “Columbia’s 21st-century legacy” now consists of reasonable and respectful debate “based on ideas” rather than overheated rhetoric and intimidation. While it’s difficult to disagree with her central idea that Columbians should respect one another’s views, particularly given the multicultural and cosmopolitan atmosphere of the university, this enthusiastic abandonment of Columbia’s revolutionary spirit seemed as political as last year’s controversial keynote speech by Ben Jealous, CC ’94. Then again, there were no protests this year, so perhaps she’s right.

When MiMoo introduced the next speaker as “presiding over the largest expansion in the school’s history,” about half the class cheered and half booed. But once PrezBo took the stage and declared that “as we look at you today—and you look great, by the way—we see that this is your century,” everyone broke into applause. Bollinger detailed some of the century’s problems that need solving: developing an economic system not wracked with economic inequality and building spaces for different kinds of people to live in multicultural settings. He promised the grads that since “generations of Columbians have gone on to solve such problems” they will, too!

After Prezbo came Scott Maxfield, CC ’11, the president of the Senior Fund Committee, who told the cheering crowd that they had raised $21,314 for the class gift. More importantly, the Class of 2011 achieved a 95% participation rate (that’s 951 seniors!), the highest ever in the history of the College, which triggered a $50,000 gift from Charles Santoro, CC ’82. So $71,314—not bad.

Finally, it was universally beloved (judging from the raucous applause) president of CC 2011 Sean Udell’s turn to speak. After quoting Legally Blonde (“we made it!”), Udell explained that the administration had asked him to “sum up the Class of 2011 experience in five minutes *checks watch*…four minutes.” He decided to approach this task “like any good anthropologist” by asking others for their beliefs and opinions. Udell found that when many seniors reflected on their time at Columbia, they referred to big events like the Ahmadinejad visit and Obama’s election. Udell quickly reminded the grads that Obama, who he had worked to bring to Commencement all year as leader of the POTUS Project, was “CC ’83—just in case he forgot!” which got a great reaction from the crowd. Despite the shared experiences, though, Udell concluded that the individual experiences of the Class of 2011 were too varied to generalize, and challenged the audience, “If given five minutes, how would you explain the Class of 2011 community?”

But Bwog knows how to describe the class in just one word: graduated! So congratulations to the Columbia College Class of 2011!

Photos by Jeffrey and Jason Donenfeld

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3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    For a second I thought this heading was "no money, no problems." And that would have made me extremely happy. #englishmajor

  2. Anonymous

    sean was amazing!!!!

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