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May 16, 2008

Local and National Leaders Highlight
Columbia Graduation Ceremonies, May 17 to 22

Two award-winning dancers, four prominent journalists and the chancellor of New York City’s school system are part of a roster of accomplished figures scheduled to address approximately 11,600 graduating students during the commencement ceremonies of Columbia University’s 254th academic year. The speeches will mark individual class day events held from May 17 to 22.

Spotlight: Five Graduates,
One Special Day

Mirsada Buric (right) has overcome incredible hurdles to achieve her dream of becoming a journalist. (Graduate School of Journalism)


Stephen Harris, once part of the rock band Guns N’ Roses, is now a major step closer to a new career as a doctor. (School of General Studies)



Insaf and Zaynab Abdullah are a mother and daughter team who pursued—and achieved— degrees at Columbia together. (School of General Studies)

Photograph by Jane HafferJonathan Lausell, a former heroin addict and high school dropout, is now clean and a Columbia grad. (School of Social Work)

The University will also confer seven honorary degrees and one Medal for Excellence at its main commencement ceremony at its Morningside Heights campus on Wednesday, May 21, at 10:30 a.m. During that ceremony, Columbia will recognize the service of outstanding alumni and excellence in teaching among its faculty. This year, 40,000 students, family members, faculty, staff and friends are expected to attend the 2008 commencement exercises.

Columbia’s 13 graduate schools and its three undergraduate institutions— Columbia College, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of General Studies—have each scheduled special events in addition to the University’s main commencement ceremony. Commencement and other ceremonies will be webcast and archived.

Some of the 22 speakers scheduled to speak include Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City’s school system, at the Columbia College Class Day; Armen Avanessians, director at Goldman Sachs, at The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science Class Day; Alicia Graf, an award-winning dancer and founder of A Time to Dance, Inc., at the School of General Studies Class Day; Bill T. Jones, Tony Award-winning dancer, choreographer and artistic director and founder of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, at the School of the Arts Presentation of Diplomas; Terry Gross, award-winning journalist and host and executive producer of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” at the Graduate School of Journalism Commencement; and Cynthia McFadden, award-winning television correspondent, anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” and “Primetime,” at the Law School Graduation.

The University will award nine Alumni Medals for outstanding work on behalf of Alma Mater. The 2008 recipients will be recognized during commencement, and honored at a dinner in conjunction with the Columbia Alumni Association Assembly Leadership Conference. This year’s awardees include:

  • Louis D. Boccardi (’59JRN), former president and CEO of the Associated Press. Boccardi, who led the AP for half of his 36-year career there, has been a member of the Graduate School of Journalism’s Board of Visitors since 1989. He served for nine years as a member of the Pulitzer Prize board, serving as chair in 1991.
  • Ron Cohen, M.D. (’81P&S), president, CEO and founder of Acorda Therapeutics, Inc., a public biotechnology company that develops therapies for spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and other disorders of the central nervous system. Dr. Cohen is the previous recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the New York metropolitan region.
  • Donald C. Waite III (’66BUS), recently retired from the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he was one of three senior partners. He has been a member of the Columbia Business School’s Board of Overseers since 1992 and continues to provide counsel to the University’s Board of Trustees.

The Medal for Excellence, awarded annually to an outstanding graduate of the University under the age of 45, will be presented to Alicia Graf, an award-winning innovator in modern dance with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

During commencement ceremonies, the University will honor outstanding faculty. Awardees this year include:

  • Andrea Bubula, lecturer in the discipline of international and public affairs, School of International and Public Affairs
  • Lewis Cole, professor of professional practice in film, School of the Arts
  • Carl L. Hart, associate professor of psychology (in psychiatry), departments of psychology and psychiatry
  • Letty Moss-Salentijn, Dr. Edwin Ross Professor of Dentistry (in anatomy and cell biology), College of Dental Medicine
  • Gerard F.R. Parkin, professor of chemistry, department of chemistry