In his annual Commencement address on Wednesday, University President Lee Bollinger spoke of Columbia’s place in the current tumultuous political environment.
Despite the heavy downpours, the class of 2018 gathered for the presentation of awards and conferment of degrees to the graduating students of the four undergraduate colleges and the graduate schools.
Bollinger emphasized the need for the Core Curriculum and the habits of mind it imparts in helping graduating students navigate the challenges ahead of them.
“I have to say I think that the world that we are facing now is deeply troubled,” Bollinger said, “The Core is a set of values that is essential for the health and well being of any individual, any institution.”
He saw the importance in taking classic works and applying them to the modern world and contemporary issues, justifying the meticulous choice of texts made decades ago.
Alongside the Core Curriculum, Bollinger explained the role graduate schools play in the broader intellectual climate of the University. He noted their influence on creating students able and willing to engage in the world at large in a tolerant, analytical way.
In the past year, administrators put out a number of statements clarifying that the University does not see graduate students as workers—its reasoning for not bargaining with the graduate student union, which led to a weeklong strike before finals—but Bollinger and other administrators did not explicitly mention this stance or ongoing discord between the University and the union at Commencement.
Bollinger spoke of the deliberate creation of the Journalism School and the Pulitzer Prize in the early 20th century as a pushback against an increasingly superficial and invasive press.
“The courts, the Pulitzer Prizes, the Core curriculum, all these were created as a response to the radical intolerance that spread,” he said.
He related this feeling of imminent chaos to the current political climate, calling for students to use the classical texts and analytical tools they learned at Columbia to deal with the problems of today.
Bollinger jokingly suggested that Congress pass a 28th Amendment mandating that all Americans take the Core Curriculum, with a C as the passing grade. He also attempted to instill in the graduating class a clear sense that their Columbia education had equipped them intellectually to mold and change the world for the better, expressing excitement at the potential the class of 2018 had shown and would continue to show.
Philanthropist and entrepreneur Shazi Visram, CC ’99 and Business ’04, was also awarded the University Medal for Excellence for her work fostering startups supporting children’s health. Visram is also the founder and CEO of Happy Family, an organic baby food company.
Recipients of honorary degrees included Elizabeth Diller, Thelma Golden, Patrick Hubert Gaspard, Bradley Efron, and Lynn Sykes.