More than 30,000 students, alumni, faculty, family and University guests gathered at Low Library Plaza for commencement exercises marking the University's 251st academic year. On May 18, approximately 11,000 students from all schools were graduated. Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia, delivered the address.
Columbia also granted eight honorary degrees as well as the University Medal for Excellence to a diverse group of national leaders from academia, theater, architecture, the American Civil Rights movement, the sciences and government.
Sterling Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Yale University Robert A. Dahl, received an honorary doctor of letters degree. Dahl's A Preface to Democratic Theory has been recognized by the American Political Science Association for its lasting contribution to the field. His body of books, which spans roughly 20 titles, is legendary.
Columbia University Professor Emeritus Henry Franklin Graff, GSAS'49, received an honorary doctor of letters degree. Graff served in Columbia's Department of History for 46 years, including a term as chair. His pioneering "Seminar on the Presidency" was one of Columbia's most popular courses. As a preeminent presidential historian, Graff regularly provided counsel and advice to Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton.
Award-winning architect Zaha Hadid received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, the field's highest honor. Born in Baghdad and raised in London, she is probably best known for her Vitra Fire Station and Land Formation–One in Weil am Rhein, Germany, the Strasbourg Tram Station in France and the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati.
Civil rights leader Dorothy Height received an honorary doctor of laws degree. For more than half a century, Height's leadership has advanced the cause of equal rights in the United States. Her appointment as president of the National Council of Negro Women in 1957 allowed her to participate in every major civil and human rights event of the 1960s.
Writer Jhumpa Lahiri, BC'89, received the Columbia University Medal for Excellence. Named by The New Yorker as "one of the 20 best writers under the age of 40," Lahiri is considered a master of the short story. Her debut book, Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000, and the title story from that collection was selected for the O. Henry Award and The Best American Short Stories.
Former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, GSAS'67, received an honorary doctor of laws degree. Scowcroft, who served Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, is now president and founder of The Scowcroft Group, a leading international strategic policy consulting firm. Scowcroft's extraordinary 29-year military career began with his graduation from West Point Military Academy and concluded at the rank of lieutenant general, following his service as deputy national security advisor.
Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman received an honorary doctor of science degree. She is known not only for her pioneering research, but also for her leadership on behalf of women in science. Tilghman has helped launch the careers of many female scholars as a member of the Pew Charitable Trusts Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Selection Committee and the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust Scholar Selection Committee.
Endel Tulving, who has devoted his career to the study of human memory, received an honorary doctor of science degree. In 1972, Tulving proposed a distinction between two kinds of long-term cognitive memory, an idea now widely accepted in the scientific community. His more recent research concerns multiple memory systems. Tulving is the Tanenbaum Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Rotman Research Institute of Baycrest Centre, University of Toronto, as well as a visiting professor of psychology and cognitive neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis.
Playwright August Wilson received an honorary doctor of letters degree. For decades, Wilson has been hailed as a seminal talent in the American theater. He is the author of works that explore the heritage and experience of African Americans. His plays, including Jitny, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf, have garnered numerous awards, including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences and The Piano Lesson.
Columbia also presented five Teaching Awards. Nicholas J. Dames, associate professor of English and comparative literature; Patrick X. Gallagher, professor of mathematics; Lydia Goehr, professor of philosophy; Bruce G. Link, professor of epidemiology and sociomedical sciences (in psychiatry); and Sanford L. Padwe, associate professor of professional practice, Graduate School of Journalism, were honored.