Commencement '96

Rupp Urges Focus on 'Common Ground'

8,600 Graduate under Sunny Skies

Photograph: Students from the School of International and Public Affairs waved flags as President Rupp conferred their degrees at commencement May 15. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Photograph: Graduates embrace. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Photograph: Sir Ian McKellen shares a happy moment with School of the Arts students following his commencement address in Miller Theatre. Photo Credit: Amy Callahan.

Photograph: Alma Mater presides over the ceremony. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Photograph: Tianamen Square activist Li Lu, second from left, celebrates with his family after receiving three degrees: College, Business and Law. Photo Credit: Leslie Bernstein.

Photograph: Graduates celebrate. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Photograph: President Rupp. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Photograph: The U.N.'s José Ayala Lasso and Dean John G. Ruggie at the SIPA graduation ceremony Tuesday. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Photograph: Barnard women prepare to receive their degrees. Photo Credit: Amy Callahan.

Under a brilliant sky of Columbia light blue, the University community celebrated its 242nd academic year with a jubilant commencement last Wednesday morning.

As President Rupp conferred degrees on graduates from each of Columbia's 17 schools and affiliates, the students cheered and tossed skyward the symbols of their academic pursuits: diskettes from the computer scientists, newsprint from the journalists, inflated surgical gloves from the physicians and flags of every nation from the diplomats and public policymakers of the future.

With the University united before him, an audience of thousands spreading from the steps of Low to the entrance of Butler, President Rupp in his commencement address urged the graduates to rise to the challenge at the forefront of American culture: the decaying sense of the common good.

"If we do not meet this challenge, none of the changes we must make to strengthen the economy, to address the sources of international conflict, to preserve our endangered environment will be achieved," Rupp said.

"Today with the collapse of Communism, our celebration of the dynamism and efficiency of markets has just about drowned out any appeal to the public interest as more than the sum of private interests," he said.

"That is a mistake. Interest group politics, identity politics, pressure group politics do not by themselves add up to the common good. Nor do great new levels of wealth achieved by a few ensure a healthy economy where all have the opportunity for achievement," he said.

"For most of our history we Americans have had a powerful sense of the common good," Rupp said. "It found expression in a widely shared social contract. We need a new contract today, where everyone gains--not just a few. Otherwise the gale force of change that is sweeping the globe will blow away what remains of the common good."

By tradition, Rupp--the University's 18th president--was the principal speaker at the commencement ceremony. He awarded degrees to more than 8,600 students in Columbia's 15 schools and affiliated institutions Barnard College and Teachers College and conferred eight honorary degrees. (See citations).

Following are some highlights of commencement week exercises:

Columbia College's graduation festivities began on a sparkling, cool spring Class Day, led by Uchenna Cletus Acholonu Jr., president of the class of 1996. He welcomed President Rupp, Dean of Students Roger Lehecka, Alumni Association President Martin S. Kaplan, and three representatives of the Class of '46: Henry S. Coleman, Norman N. Cohen and Bernard Sunshine.

Addressing the graduating class were Rupp, Columbia College Dean Austin Quigley, Student Council President Christopher Michael Glaros and salutatorian Yair Yehuda Galil (son of Engineering School Dean Zvi Galil), who, at age 18, was the youngest graduating senior.

Keynote speaker Robert E. Rubin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, urged the students to consider government service as they plan careers, because government, however much maligned, brings many benefits to all Americans. He also said that the people we know as bureaucrats are, in fact, dedicated professionals.

"People ask me what I find most surprising about Washington," he said. "I invariably say one of the things that has struck me is the commitment and quality of so many people with whom I've worked. And that includes many younger people who, like you, have the advantage of an outstanding education and then decided to spend a few years in public service."

He also said that the present government has been streamlined to "give taxpayers the highest value for their dollars." Of course, he said, one of his great inspirations is his predecessor, Columbia alumnus Alexander Hamilton.

A wish was bestowed upon the Barnard College graduates last week by alumna Judith S. Kaye, chief judge of the State of New York's Court of Appeals.

"My wish," Kaye said in Tuesday ceremonies, "is that you return to Barnard having achieved not merely your personal ambition, but the very outermost fleeting hope you have for your future, and that standing before a group of happy but apprehensive graduates you will say to them as I now say to you: Yes, it is possible. The opportunities are limitless. You can have it. You can have it all."

The graduates, gathered on Lehman Lawn at Barnard, received similar encouragement from their class president, Eurydice Kelley, who won the Frank Gilbert Bryson Prize for service to the college.

"Although you are all different, you are all exceptional and powerful women," she said.

President Judith R. Shapiro congratulated the graduating women, their families and friends, and spoke of the recent union strike on campus.

"We need to remember that conflict is a normal part of life in a community, and that dealing with it is not simply an obligation, but an opportunity to learn and grow stronger," Shapiro said. "In an academic community in particular, it is an opportunity to take seriously the values and practices that we hold especially dear: developing arguments and points of view that are rational and coherent; paying careful attention to facts and evidence; taking turns between talking and listening."

Barnard medals of distinction were awarded to: scientist Rita R. Colwell, arts administrator and actress Kitty Carlisle Hart, architect Maya Lin and diplomat Anne Warburton.

Joseph A. Califano Jr. urged the 230 graduates of the School of General Studies to question whether the advancement of technology in human life is one of technological morality.

Califano--the former secretary of health and welfare in President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration, and founder, chairman and president of Columbia's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse--spoke during the GS Class Day ceremony on Tues., May 14, in Miller Theatre.

"The world over has suffered grave consequences because the questions of technological morality were not asked by past generations," Califano said.

He cited major nuclear disasters as examples where technological morality should have been questioned, such as the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the nuclear accident at Three-Mile-Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the more recent nuclear crisis at Chernobyl in 1986.

The question of technological morality must be addressed not only of the field of nuclear technology but of other fields as well, he said.

"It is your destiny to control the pandora's box of fearsome and marvelous discoveries that awaits you in the 21th century," he said.

Salutatorian Boris Kobrinskiy told his fellow graduates that Columbia has been his greatest experience since he came to America from Russia in 1991.

"I have experienced people of many different cultures and races. At Lewisohn Hall, many students, Koreans, Japanese, Russians, Chinese, Italians, French, Americans, Whites and Blacks, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus sat around a table speaking English, while the American flag flew outside."

Kobrinskiy ended his speech by acknowledging and praising the University's freedom of spirit and its ability to embrace all human kind.

At Teachers College's convocation for master's-degree graduates, Teachers College Medals were presented to: Ramon C. Cortines, former chancellor of the New York City public schools; Paulo Freire, noted Brazilian educator and author; and Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, sociologist and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The special student speaker was Waldemar Rojas, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, who received his Doctor of Education degree from Teachers College during the commencement season. In his address, Rojas referred to Cortines, who preceded him in the San Francisco superintendency, as a "designer of opportunity and achievement for all students."

Before the ceremony, Rojas and Cortines shared a few moments of conversation with Teachers College Dean Karen Zumwalt and President Arthur Levine. In a separate convocation, 303 doctoral graduates were honored by Teachers College.

Columbia's newest M.F.A. recipients were cast into the real world with suitable artistic flair by Sir Ian McKellen on Wednesday afternoon, leaving many who attended his School of the Arts commencement address delightedly wondering whether they had instead attended a performance of the celebrated British actor.

On stage in the Miller Theatre, McKellen's extemporaneous speech included a Shakespearean soliloquy; an appeal to all gay and lesbian students to come out of the closet so that they, like he, may enhance their artistic skills, and a declaration that vital theater needs to be out and alive in the community. In that vein, McKellen likened himself to a traveling troupe, bringing theater to the world.

More than 160 graduates received the Master of Fine Arts degrees in the School of the Arts' divisions of film, theater arts, visual arts and writing. One student, Brian T. Field, received the doctor of music arts.

Dean Robert Fitzpatrick told the graduates he wanted to offer them a mantra. He recalled a sign he saw in Paris while living there in the1960s. He recited it first in French, and then in English: " 'Be realistic. Demand the impossible.' It seemed an appropriate motto for you to take from here."

Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian and writer, told the Graduate School of Journalism's class of 1996 how she got her start as an historian: As a girl, she listened to the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball game and recorded each play so that her father, when he came home from work, knew what happened in every inning.

"He thought I was doing great as a miniature historian," she said at Tuesday's convocation. "It was a great impetus to keep this up later in life."

But, she said, her love of story telling came from knowing President Lyndon B. Johnson when she was a young woman working in The White House.

"He still remains the most fascinating, frustrating, formidable, irritating character I've ever known," Goodwin said. "He was, first of all, the most extraordinary storyteller."

Goodwin also spoke of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and how his lifestyle--hosting live-in advisors and friends in The White House--would not have survived the scrutiny of today's journalists.

"Think of what the modern press corps would have done to the Roosevelt White House today: A secretary in love with her boss, a princess visiting on weekends, a woman reporter in love with Eleanor, a prime minister drinking all day long. These unconventional relationships--so vital to Roosevelt's successful leadership during the war--were only able to flourish because there was a rule of thumb on the part of journalists that the private lives of public figures were relevant only if they had a direct impact on public policy."

The importance that ethics will play in their careers as lawyers was a refrain heard throughout the evening, as 474 Columbia Law School students celebrated their graduation May 15 at a Carnegie Hall ceremony that marked Lance Liebman's last commencement appearance as dean.

In the keynote address, NBA Commissioner David J. Stern, Law '66, told the graduates that "lawyers are held to a degree of commitment and ethics beyond the benchmark of any other profession. The public outrage heard when a lawyer violates his or her professional ethics is to be expected and welcomed."

Liebman, dean of the Law School from 1991 to 1996, warned the students to be aware that when "huge ethical issues sometimes crop up in your careers, you will have less than one minute to make decisions that will define your character and coalesce your values."

The ceremony also saw the presentation of the Columbia Law School Association's Distinguished Achievement Award to Ida Klaus, Law '31, the oldest living female graduate of Columbia Law School, and the presentation of the Willis Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching to Professor Harvey J. Goldschmid, CC '62, Law '65.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights José Ayala Lasso, who just returned from a trip to the former Yugoslavia, spoke at the School of International and Public Affairs graduation ceremony on May 14 on the topic of accountability in human rights issues.

"Traditionally," he said, "discussions of human rights have centered on three basic principles--defining standards, promotion of those standards and protection against violation of the standards. Today, I want to introduce and emphasize a fourth principle into all human rights discussions--it is accountability."

Ayala Lasso endorsed the establishment of a permanent international criminal tribunal before the 50th anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1998.

"Together," he said, "we must rid this planet of the obscenity that a person stands a better chance of being tried and judged for killing one human being than for killing one hundred thousand."

He also stressed the importance of individual accountability. "The Declaration of Independence ... reminds children and adults alike that there would be no need for an international tribunal, no need for rebuilding judiciaries, and, indeed, no need for a high commissioner, if we all understood and followed those 'truths,' " he said.

Ayala Lasso concluded by appealing to the graduates to promote the cause of human rights.

"I ask each of you to become my ambassadors, to help carry the message of human rights wherever you go and whatever you do."

Sadako Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and recipient of an honorary doctor of laws from Columbia this year, was the featured speaker at the Alumni Federation's 98th commencement luncheon in Low Rotunda on May 15.

She spoke on the need for worldwide aid to human rights abuse victims and government prevention of abuses, both outside of, and within, their own countries.

A native of Japan, Ogata emphasized the importance of foreign aid to countries after atrocities such as war, citing her own homeland after World War II and appealing to the U.S.'s memory of a history marred by Civil War. Without taking steps to uphold U.S. values of liberty, equality and democracy by helping victims, she said, today's refugees "would be victims twice."

Ogata said that to ensure that the Dayton Peace Accord in Bosnia is brought to fruition, several steps must be taken: political forces must be supported, reconstruction take place, the economy must be revived, displaced refugees must be allowed to return to their homes and fair elections must take place.

Expressing regret that the state of the world remained a dark backdrop to commencement festivities, she urged luncheon guests to realize: "It is clear that ... the road to lasting peace, as opposed to just the absence of war, will be long and arduous."

Columbia University Record -- May 24, 1996 -- Vol. 21, No. 28