A Legacy of Leadership
The Tradition Continues
The lights of Broadway that once burned brightly for Ira Gershwin '18C, Oscar Hammerstein II '16C '18L '54HON, Paul Robeson '23L, Richard Rodgers '23C '54HON, Morrie Ryskind '17J, and producers Samuel Shipman '19C and Bernard Jacobs '40L, continued to shine for Brian Dennehy '60C in the revival of Death of a Salesman, Elizabeth Paw '00C, who began her freshman studies while starring in the lead role in Miss Saigon, and Karin Coonrod '88SOA, who directed last year's revival of Shakespeare's King John at the American Place Theatre.
At the start of the twenty-first century, as during the nearly 250 years leading up to it, Columbia's alumni have found that their achievements in New York very quickly attract national and international attention. That is one lesson taught by the city's unofficial anthem, "New York, New York," composed by John Kander '54GSAS, who wrote the hit scores for Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, the latter with the book by Terrence McNally '60C. Following the tradition of lyricist Lorenz Hart '18J and novelist Herman Wouk '34C, McNally got his start in the theatre writing the book for the annual Columbia Varsity Show.
The New York music scene was enlivened last year by the acclaimed violinist Gil Shaham '89–90C '90GS, brother of classical pianist Orli Shaham '97C and son of the late Columbia Physics Professor Jacob Shaham. Also appearing were pianist Emanuel Ax '70C, who has teamed up in concert with Gil Shaham; Joel Krosnick '63C, cellist with the Juilliard String Quartet; singer Art Garfunkel '62C, who rose to fame as half of the Simon and Garfunkel team; pianist-composer Dick Hyman '48C, whose output includes the scores of Woody Allen's made-in-New-York movies; longtime SoHo resident, composer, and multimedia performance artist Laurie Anderson '69BAR '72SOA; and the classically trained jazz pianist and composer Armen Donelian '72C, a native of Jackson Heights, Queens, and son of Khatchik Donelian '36 '37E.
On the big screen, recent graduates of our School of the Arts won acclaim for work that included Boys Don't Cry by Kimberly Peirce '96SOA, named to sixty critics' top ten lists, and Girl, Interrupted, adapted and directed by James Mangold '99SOA. Associate Professor Eduardo Machado's film Exiles in New York toured festivals in the United States and Cuba prior to its scheduled opening in New York theatres. Today's Columbia filmmakers extend a tradition of excellence that includes such classics as Citizen Kane, written by Herman Mankiewicz '17C, and All About Eve, written and directed by his brother Joseph Mankiewicz '28C, along with more recent work by director Brian DePalma '62C (The Untouchables) and producers Kenneth Lipper '62C (City Hall and Wall Street) and David Brown '37J (The Player and Driving Miss Daisy).
Carefully monitoring screen fare are film critics David Denby '65C '66J of New York Magazine and now The New Yorker, and Professor Andrew Sarris '51C, now with the Observer and for three decades an influential teacher at Columbia and discriminating moviegoer for The Village Voice.
Last year's successes on the small screen included the HBO broadcast of RKO 281, the story of the making of Citizen Kane that won a Golden Globe for director Ben Ross '91SOA, and the 12-hour PBS series on the history of New York City directed by Ric Burns '78C.
Among Columbia's gifts to screens large and small are the quintessential New York characters played by James Cagney '22C, George Segal '55C, and Telly Savalas '50GS, and those scripted by Billy Wilder's indispensable writing partner I. A. L. Diamond '41C.
A new generation of television commentators has come to the fore, including Claire Shipman '86C '94SIPA on NBC, George Stephanopoulos '82C on ABC, and Steve Kroft '75J, after eleven years still the youngest correspondent on CBS's 60 Minutes. John Metaxas '80C '83J '84L covers the NASDAQ for CNN, while behind the scenes, Paul Friedman '67J serves as executive vice president and managing editor for news content at ABC, and Philip Scheffler '51J, executive editor of 60 Minutes since 1980, has logged a total of forty years with CBS.
Gabe Pressman '47J, pioneering street reporter and still a mainstay on New York's News Channel 4, is the namesake of the Gabe Pressman Academy for Communication and Technology at his other alma mater, Morris High School in the South Bronx. Last year a group of students at Morris, working evenings and weekends with Columbia Engineering teachers and students, built a remote-controlled robot that won a New York City regional competition. (Pressman's Channel 4 colleague, investigative reporter Ti-Hua Chang '77J, is also an award-winning native New Yorker.)
Thousands of Columbians in New York have achieved distinction in their fields without gaining quite the same instant name recognition as alumni on stage and screen. Even these most celebrated of our graduates depend heavily on the skills of other professionals, such as Columbia-trained legal experts Victor Kovner '61L, a specialist in protecting First Amendment rights, Roland Plottel '55C '58L '64E, a guardian of intellectual property, Timothy Debaets '71C, who practices arts, entertainment, and sports law, and Morton Janklow '53L, New York's leading literary agent.
Evan Davis '69L, president of the Bar Association of the City of New York and also a University Trustee, and Stephen Hoffman '65C, president of the New York County Lawyers Association, are outstanding leaders of the bar.
Rolando Acosta '79C '82L, born in the Dominican Republic, grew up in the South Bronx and moved to Washington Heights when he was a scholarship student in Columbia College. Acosta helped found the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans and the Latino Commission on AIDS. As a leader of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, he was active in developing the Washington Heights social service infrastructure. He served as city commis-sioner of human rights and as chief attorney of the Legal Aid Society before assuming his present post, judge of the New York County Civil Court. At Commencement in 2000 I had the privilege of awarding him the University Medal for Excellence.
More than thirty of our graduates, including Surrogate Judge Eve Preminger '60L and Supreme Court Judge Beatrice Shainswit '47L, serve on the County and State Courts in New York City. A score of alumni grace the federal courts in our city, including the former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Wilfred Feinberg '40C '43L '85HON and his colleagues Robert Sack '63L and José Cabranes '61C, a founding member of the Puerto Rican Defense and Education Fund and now a University Trustee; Chief Judge Charles Sifton '61L and senior judges Eugene Nickerson '43L and Jack Weinstein '48L on the Eastern District Court; and a dozen prominent Columbians on the Southern District Court, ranging from the Columbia College Class of '27 and Law School Class of '29 (Milton Pollack) to the Law School Class of '46 (Constance Baker Motley) to the Columbia College Class of '72 and Law School Class of '75 (Gerard Lynch, the Paul J. Kellner Professor of Law).
A special dedication to serving their fellow New Yorkers animates the careers of alumni working to strengthen education in the city. Judith Shapiro '72GSAS continues to provide outstanding leadership as president of Barnard College. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein '53C, president of the Synagogue Council of America, is principal of the Ramaz School in Manhattan. Frank Macchiarola '65L '70GSAS, whose past positions include professor at Columbia Business School, chancellor of the New York City public school system, and dean of Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University, has assumed the presidency of St. Francis College.
Joining the ranks of New York's educators are a dozen new Columbia alumni, trained for the classroom and the laboratory by our Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. They have recently accepted appointments as junior faculty members at New York University, CUNY's John Jay College and Hunter College, Pace University, Long Island University, Manhattanville College, and Columbia itself.
Among Columbia's medical graduates at leading New York institutions is Barry Coller '66C, chief of medical services at Mt. Sinai Hospital, who discovered an antibody that was modified to produce a major pharmaceutical drug. Dozens of other drugs and therapies have resulted from the pioneering work of Richard Axel '67C, University Professor and the Higgins Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. Drs. Coller and Axel, like so many of Columbia's other physician-scientists, carry on the tradition of Dr. Michael Heidelberger '08C '09 '11GSAS, who was born in New York City in 1888 and worked here all his life, conducting experiments in immunochemistry and sharing his knowledge until his death at age 103.
Another great leader in medicine, Manhattan-born Paul Marks '46C '49P&S, spent the first thirty years of his career at the College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S), where he founded the department of genetics and development, directed our Cancer Research Center, and served as dean and vice president of the health sciences. Dr. Marks then headed downtown to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he has spent the past twenty years as president and CEO.
Dr. Michael Bruno '43C '45P&S ran the department of surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital for more than three decades. Raymond Laraja '59C is director of surgery at Cabrini Medical Center. Michael Lesch '60C is chief of medicine at St. Luke's–Roosevelt. They and all of Columbia's alumni in the medical professions—staff doctors, dentists, nurses, and therapists—join our thousands of attorneys, judges, activists, and educators in serving the people of New York and making the city a better place in which to live.
This account of alumni participation in the life of New York must necessarily be a sampling, touching on only a small fraction of Columbia's outstanding leaders in the city. But in any consideration of Columbia and the city, one alumnus stands in a special place: Lou Gehrig '25C, the immortal "Iron Horse," who as a student slammed a baseball from South Field in front of John Jay Hall across West 116th Street (now College Walk). His farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939 was one of the most powerful moments in our city's history.