Office of Public Affairs
Columbia University
New York, N.Y.   10027
(212) 854-5573

Fred Knubel, Director of Public Information

Cake or Exam? A Baker's Choice

It wasn't the hundreds of eggs or hundred pounds of butter and sugar that worried Seth Greenberg when he was asked to bake President Clinton's 50th birthday cake.

It was his exam.

Greenberg had a five-hour final in his finance class at Columbia Business School to take on Aug. 17, the same day his cake for 2,000 people had to be baked.

So, of course, he called his professor and asked for an extension. "While a note from your mom is traditional, a note from the White House is better," he said. He got the extension.

Greenberg, 38, is president of the baking division of the well-known William Greenberg Jr. Desserts and Cafes of Manhattan. He is also a student in the executive M.B.A. program, the intensive course of study that allows mid-career executives, sponsored by their companies, to earn their degrees while staying on the job.

"I just knew I couldn't do the cake and study enough for the final," he said. "I had to choose, and Professor (Gailen) Hite was very understanding."

When the exam began at noon that Saturday, Greenberg was hard at work in his Upper East Side store, shaping a great, curved flag atop the nearly three-by-four-foot cake. The stars were white 50's on a blue background, and the red and white stripes spelled the names of all the states.

The cake was presented the next day at the Sheraton during Clinton's gala sweep through New York. When Hillary Rodham Clinton unexpectedly asked Greenberg to come to the stage, "my blood pressure jumped," he said. "I handed a cake server to the President very carefully and I wished him fifty more years of health, family and friends."

Greenberg's cake, with the President and Chelsea blowing out the candles, lit television screens Sunday, including the Today Show, and appeared in color on front pages of newspapers across the country and beyond on Monday. The Associated Press story began: "Seth Greenberg had at least 50 good reasons for skipping his exam at Columbia University yesterday."

He took the exam the following Friday. "Did I pass? Absolutely. Did I get a high grade? Probably. But not the honors I wanted," he said.

There was consolation in a letter from Clinton that arrived last week: "Thanks for the great birthday cake," it said. "It was phenomenal and tasted even better than it looked."