Low Plaza

Commencement Speakers Offer Sage Counsel to 2002 Graduates

By Jason Hollander and Jo Kadlecek

The steps of Low Library turned blue under an equally blue sky as more than 10,000 students robed in the Columbia colors (light blue and white) graduated during the 248th commencement exercises May 22. Soap bubbles floated upward, beach balls bounced between graduates and newspaper confetti littered the plaza while President George Rupp congratulated the class of 2002. Over 20,000 family and friends basked in the morning sun, celebrating the completion of bachelor, master's and doctoral degrees from Columbia's 15 schools and two affiliates.

"I have never seen a happier, brighter, better prepared class in my nine years at Columbia than the extraordinary class of 2002," Rupp told the graduates. "This is a time for celebration. But even as we shout and cheer and applaud you and your achievements, we know that your final year will also be forever marked by the tragedy that has come to be known simply as 9/11. The horrific events of that day are etched into our memories as vivid scenes of deliberately inflicted death and destruction and the loss of many of our friends and loved ones in the Columbia family."

Officiating his last graduation before stepping down this June, Rupp then challenged the 2002 graduates to view the effects of globalization through the lens of 9/11, noting that 9/11 symbolized some of the most pressing issues that graduates will confront as the world's future leaders.

"We are all at ground zero," he said. "Our [county's] destiny cannot be divorced from the fate of the rest of the world, including those furthest from us in geography, ideology and socioeconomic status."

Rupp went on to speak of institutional responsibility, citing the recent Enron scandal as example. He told the graduates that they must learn from the mistakes they witness in society.

"You will be not only players but also the theoreticians, the policymakers, the executives who help determine the rules of the game. In the confidence that Columbia has contributed to your capacity for such leadership, I wish each one of you all the best for all of our sake," said Rupp.

In addition to the commencement exercise, graduates were also given sage counsel while attending ceremonies in their respective schools or colleges across campus throughout the week.

David Stern, chair of Columbia's Board of Trustees and commissioner of the National Basketball Association was the guest speaker at Columbia College's Class Day held on South Lawn on the morning of May 21.

"Do not make the mistake of treating your lives or your careers as appropriate subjects for flow charts, spread sheets or game theory, where every decision must so carefully be analyzed for its impact on some preconceived critical path," Stern urged the graduates.

"Not only is it okay to do something because it feels right, because you think you might enjoy it, because you might find it interesting, because you might learn something new, or because it might even be fun, but these in fact might be the best decisions for doing something and I assure you that no decisions are final," said Stern, noting that his own career success is a result of following personal interests and motivations rather than just professional practicality. "I have come to believe that the words 'career path' should be abolished."

Later that day, also on South Lawn, Jeffrey L. Bleustein, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Harley-Davidson, roared up to the dais at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science's Class Day on a 115-horsepower, water-cooled Harley in anodized aluminum to deliver the keynote address.

Bleustein, who earned the Ph.D. in engineering in 1965 at the school, told the graduates to follow their hearts and their passions to achieve success after graduation.

"September 11 has forced us all to reassess what freedom means to us," he said. "As you go forward, I hope that you, too, will treasure that freedom by replacing the fear of the unknown with knowledge and help to bridge differences with understanding."

At the graduation for the School of International and Public Affairs in St. John the Divine on 110th Street, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told students, "For the rest of society, 9/11 was a wake up call. You have a duty to lead responsibly in either or both of these fields -- to meet heightened expectations in a critical time."

Bloomberg then made an effort to entice students not to stray too far from their new alma mater.

"Your careers will take many of you to other cities and other nations. But -- time for a recruiting pitch -- think about NYC. No other city has what we offer. No other city can present you with such rewarding career challenges and opportunities. And at this time in our city's history, New York needs you talents the most," said Bloomberg.

George Mitchell, former United States senator and current faculty member in the School of International and Public Affairs, spoke to a packed Low Rotunda during the annual Alumni Federation luncheon immediately following commencement.

Mitchell urged for "the spread of prosperity in every part of the world" through increased education and improved health care. Noting the plethora of violence presently occurring across the globe, especially in the Middle East, Mitchell said, "There is no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended. Conflicts are created, conducted, and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings."

In the School of the Arts, Dean Bruce Ferguson told the graduation audience in Miller Theatre that "this class will not dumb down [their art] but will ask others to smarten up." Author, columnist and humorist, Calvin Trillon, then told graduates to "embrace rejection since rejection is the most appropriate subject [to discuss] for people in your field."

Activist and educator Coretta Scott King addressed graduates of Teachers College during services also at St. John the Divine. "TC is by any measure one of the finest institutions for training educators, not just in the U.S. but in the world. That means more will be expected of you," said King, adding, "I believe teachers in America are the force that defines the quality of America's future."

Published: Jun 11, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002


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