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On the Verge of Turning 250, Columbia Prepares A Year of Events and Celebrations

By Jason Hollander

Teddy Roosevelt, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Paul Robeson, Enrico Fermi, Allen Ginsberg, Margaret Mead, David Stern, Mark Van Doren, Dwight Eisenhower, Oscar Hammerstein, Alexander Hamilton, I.I. Rabi, Lou Gehrig, Paul Auster, Lionel Trilling, Robert Merton, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Madeleine Albright, Milos Forman, George Stephanopoulos, John Jay, Benjamin Spock...

One would need a tremendous amount of time and space just to dent the list of prominent figures that have been part of the Columbia University family throughout its 250 years. It would also be nearly impossible to measure the impact Columbia minds have had on the course of world history since King's College -- Columbia's original charter name -- opened its doors in 1754. But it is easy to see that global events and ideas have been seriously shaped by the students, faculty and alumni who have walked across Columbia's campuses in the last quarter millennium.

Would the New Deal have been so successful if F.D.R. had attended a different school than Columbia Law? How would America's first chief justice, John Jay, have led the new country's courts without his King's College education? What would the radical 1960s have looked like without pioneering Columbia beatniks Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg discussing prose and philosophy into the late hours at the West End?

The reach of Columbia's history makers is so vast and powerful that some of this information eludes even today's students, faculty and alumni. In most cases, this is only because they are busy making their own marks as scholars, scientists, artists and leaders. So how does a University celebrate 250 years of profound achievement? By using the time to reflect on that rich history as well as the key role that Columbia currently plays in New York and around the world.

Homecoming weekend 2003 -- October 16-19 -- will commence a year of events and celebration to mark Columbia's 250th Anniversary. The days will be filled with symposia addressing some of the most important issues of our time, a concert on the Morningside campus, fireworks on the Hudson River and a 100th birthday party for the Alma-Mater statue. Students, faculty and alumni across the globe will have the opportunity to take part in what promises to be an illuminating display of Columbia's past and present intellectual leadership.

Throughout the year, President Lee C. Bollinger, senior administrators and faculty will all travel around the world to help alumni feel connected to the historic anniversary the school has reached. Bollinger especially will speak about new initiatives the school is undertaking and his general vision for the University.

Critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ric Burns, CC'78 and GSAS'83, has created a film highlighting the achievements of the greater University community that will be screened across the country and in a special presentation on PBS's Channel 13 in New York. Burns will travel to Columbia Clubs in several cities to discuss the film and what he learned about his alma-mater in the process. Barnard History Professor Robert McCaughey has written a scholarly history of the University, an all-encompassing look at the unique evolution of the school since Colonial times. McCaughey too will travel to clubs in many cities to share his research and knowledge with alumni.

A series of eight academic symposiums will be featured throughout the year, hosting scholars from Columbia and around the world to address and challenge some of the most important issues of our time. Among the topics will be "Genes and Genomes: Impact on Medicine and Society," "The Future of the Planet: What Limits Our Ability to Manage Earth's Climate" and "Constitutions, Democracy, and the Rule of Law." All of the symposia will include leading experts from various disciplines, keeping with Bollinger's vision of a Columbia uniting to address complicated global issues.

Outreach is, of course, an important component of the celebration's success. An interactive Web site is being developed to enhance the opportunity for Columbians to connect immediately with information and news. All alumni will receive a mailing detailing the opportunity they will have to take part in the year's events and Columbia Clubs everywhere will be encouraged to organize a special series of 250th presentations and parties. Columbia Magazine is publishing a series of essays, titled "Living Legacies," profiling great Columbia moments, movements and figures.

Former Columbia College dean of students and director of alumni programs, Roger Lehecka, is executive director of the 250th events program. Lehecka, CC'67 and GSAS'74, believes the celebration will communicate to Columbians and others that "our alumni and our faculty continue to shape the world" through groundbreaking education, research and service.

"An anniversary provides all of us with a chance to show our pride in Columbia," said Lehecka, who admits to being "unashamedly sentimental" about his Columbia experience. He is currently working with the 250th Anniversary co-chairs, Henry L. King, University Trustee Emeritus, and Kenneth T. Jackson, Jacques Barzun Professor of History and Social Sciences, to "bring about a celebration worthy of this great University."

For Lehecka, and everyone involved in planning the festivities, there is no shortage of material to choose from.

Published: Mar 18, 2003
Last modified: Mar 17, 2003

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