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Columbia Spectator Staff

Jeff Spear was putting the finishing touches on his thesis when he found out that he was the Columbia College salutatorian. "The moment I first heard was about an hour before my thesis was due," Spear recalled. "I just said that I can't think about this at all or I'm not going to finish my thesis." Spear—an evolutionary biology major with an archaeology minor—has distinguished himself both as a student and as a champion fencer. He is graduating with a GPA of 4.07. It was a series of A-pluses—which are worth 4.33 in GPA calculations—from his Core and archaeology classes that put him over the 4.0 mark, as his major classes do not give A-pluses as a matter of policy. His only A-minus grades came in both semesters of Contemporary Civilization. He said that his favorite courses were those in his major and most of the Core, and named Origins of Human Society with Severin Fowles, an assistant anthropology professor at Barnard, as a particular favorite. Spear spent the last three summers doing a field project in the Rio Grande Gorge in northern New Mexico with Fowles and a group of students, and his work there led to his senior thesis. He said that stone tools found in northern New Mexico are his specialty. "Jeff scaled cliffs, wriggled down into caves, swam across the Rio Grande holding field gear afloat, and impaled himself (repeatedly) on cacti... all in the name of archaeological research," Fowles wrote in an email. "And he did it with great intellectual commitment and humor." Spear is also a national champion and All-American fencer, and was named a first-team Academic All-America athlete last year by ESPN The Magazine. He has been fencing since he was 12. George Kolombatovich, Columbia's fencing coach, said that Spear is a "truly exceptional individual," a teammate who is calm in competition and understands time management. "He certainly is a tremendous role model. It sets a high mark for the other members of the team," Kolombatovich said. Spear also travels often for competitions—in fact, he leaves for a tournament the day after Commencement. While fencing forced him to miss a handful of anthropology professor Ralph Holloway's classes, Holloway described Spear as "one of the most outstanding students I've known since I started teaching at Columbia in 1964." "He is a true scholar, who puts his all into his studies, and having him in class always presents one of those lovely challenges that many professors really desire—which is skepticism," Holloway wrote in an email. "I am grateful that I wasn't one of his opponents in saber!" Holloway added. On campus, Spear also participated in the Undergraduate Archaeology Club and worked in the Frontiers of Science help room for four or five hours per week. After graduation, he said, he hopes to stay in the city for the next two years to pursue fencing opportunities. He added that he would also like to work in anthropology or archaeology during this time, ideally at the American Museum of Natural History. After that, he would like to pursue a Ph.D. in either archaeology or anthropology. In his spare time, Spear said, "I like to play a lot of board games," particularly strategy games. He claims that he has over a dozen in his dorm room.

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