"It is a mix of lineage and late-night insanity, of deep thought and hot air, that make up that strange brew which is Philo. I think back to the night I joined Philo. We rode our croquet mallets in Monty Python-esque fashion through the main reading room of Butler library. I knew right away I had found something unique. Who were those masked men? Philos were willing to be unabashedly intellectual (if we are being kind) or pretentious (if we are not). Couple that with a profound appreciation of the absurd and Philo's camraderie, had me hooked.
"For many of us, Philo became more than a campus activity. It became part of an identity. I have often said that you do not find Philo -- Philo finds you. A group with a past as vibrant as ours can only hope for an equally vibrant future. Philo has a strong presence on campus, but we must ensure that there will always continue to be a place for Philo's particular brand of genius. Now is a crucial time. While the Society has done well with what it has, only by increasing its funding we can both enhance the programming it has and branch out into new exciting directions.
"Over the past 18 months, concerned Philo alumni have formed the Philolexian Foundation. The Foundation dedicated to supporting Philo independently of what Columbia can provide. There is no limit to what the Foundation can accomplish. Short term projects could include the improving the quality of Surgam, subsidizing Philo pins, or purchasing a really nifty croquet set. Beyond that, there is no limit. The Foundation could provide scholarships, sponsor lectures on campus, aid in the preservation of Philo history, or whatever else we can dream up. But it will be up to us.
"We are all here because Philo had an impact on us. It is up to us to ensure that future generations at Columbia can have a similar experience. I ask that each of you contribute what you can to the Philolexian Foundation, perhaps using the pledge cards at your table. There are pledge cards at each table. And remember, Philos never abstain.
"Before I introduce our keynote speaker, I want to take a moment to recognize some of those who contributed to making tonight a success: Tim Cross and Ken Catandella in the Columbia College Alumni Office, Margo Dobbertin in General Studies, and Philo's excellent advisor in Student Development and Activities, Rebecca Selvenis. I also want to publically thank the members of the Bicentennial planning committee, who somehow managed, amidst full time jobs, consuming course loads, and generally crazy lives to put an enormous amount of energy patience into the planning of this event. I really enjoyed working with you and I'm glad we're all still talking to each other. I'd like each of you to stand up as I say your name, so everyone can see your pretty faces: Matt Abrams, Batsheva Glatt, David Lane, David Damast, Maria King, Marla Diamond, Ian Sullivan, Perry Metzger, Andrew Shiner, and last but not least, two people without whose efforts this dinner would really never have happened, Calista Brill and our Avatar, Tom Vinciguerra.
"John Hollander and Allen Ginsberg may both have gone to Columbia and both have been Presidents of Philo, but they were very different sorts of poets. Once, Ginsberg, upon receiving from Hollander a critique of Howl , and of Beat poetry in general, proceeded to write a 30-page reply which included the omnious warning: 'So anyway there is a Grove anthology of all these poets coming out in a year and if you call that a bore again I swear I'll write you a letter goofier than this and twice as exasperated.' I don't know what Hollander's response was, but it was probably more coherent than Ginsberg's letter. Dr. Hollander is a man of letters who very much represents the best of Philo's commitment to literary excellence and we should be honored to have him here tonight.
"John Hollander graduated from Columbia College in 1950. He began graduate school here but didn't like it much, so he fled to Indiana University, where he received his PhD in 1959. After serving as a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, he taught at the Connecticut College for Women, Yale, and CUNY before settling back at Yale again in 1977. He has remained there ever since, and in 1995 was named the Sterling Professor of English.
"One of this country's most esteemed poets, Dr. Hollander has written or edited more than 20 volumes of verse and criticism, as well as a number of books for children and several collaborations on operatic and lyric works. A former Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets, he has received many honors, including the Levinson Prize, the Bollingen Prize, and a five-year MacArthur 'Genius' fellowship.
"It is for these and other accomplishments that I am proud to present Dr. Hollander with the first Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement and am pleased to invite him up to the podium to speak tonight."