Commencement 2009: President Bollinger Calls Global Free Speech Rights Vital to New Graduates

June 11, 2009Bookmark and Share
President Bollinger spoke to graduates about the challenges of globalization. [Image credit: Eileen Barroso / Columbia University]
Watch the commencement ceremony. (1:56:28 - RealPlayer Windows Media Player)
Image credit: Eileen Barroso / Columbia University

Columbia’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, as well as affiliated institutions all held graduation events from May 16 to May 21, in addition to the University’s main commencement ceremony, held on May 20. Most of the ceremonies were webcast live and can be seen in the archive.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder (CC’73, Law’76) joined a broad array of distinguished figures who addressed the various class day and graduation ceremonies for Columbia University’s approximately 12,000 graduates. Holder spoke at Columbia College Class Day on May 19. United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the Barnard College graduation ceremony on May 18.
After a largely gray and damp spring, more than 40,000 graduates, family and friends came together for University commencement under a sparkling sun on May 20, filling every corner of Low Plaza and South Field for the official conferral of degrees. Following Columbia tradition, the commencement address was delivered by the University President. President Bollinger used the opportunity to bring together his own academic field of free speech and free press with the challenges of globalization, telling graduates that their ability to function in an increasingly global society will depend on the extension of "uninhibited, robust, and wide-open" debate they experienced at Columbia to many societies where such rights do not exist. 
“When journalists and scholars languish in prison, when websites are banned and signals blocked, the rights of all of us are now abridged,” Bollinger said. “For the next generation of global citizens there is no more important task than creating a society in which ideas matter, knowledge can be pursued freely, dissent can be heard and objective news can be gathered and published everywhere in the world.”
He also pointed out that the challenges to the flow of vital public information was threatened not only by government censorship, but also by the collapsing economic model of mainstream newspaper and broadcast journalism in the freest of nations. He called on students to develop approaches to support the public trust of quality journalism.
During the ceremony, the University conferred eight honorary degrees and awarded its Medal for Excellence to an outstanding alumna under the age of 45. The medal was presented to Kiran Desai (SOA’99), a writer whose second novel, The Inheritance of Loss, won the 2006 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award. Columbia also recognized the service of outstanding alumni, as well as excellence in teaching among its faculty. This year’s honorands include Paul Farmer, physician and anthropologist; Ainslie T. Embree, historian of modern South Asia; P.N. Bhagwati, former chief justice of the supreme court of India; Helene D. Gayle, international humanitarian; and H. Fitzgerald Lenfest, media entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Some of the 22 graduation ceremony speakers included Brent Scowcroft, former U.S. national security adviser, at the School of International and Public Affairs; Jerry Saltz, art critic and columnist for New York magazine, at the School of the Arts presentation of diplomas; and Gray Davis (Law’67), former governor of California, at the Law School graduation.
Columbia presented 10 Alumni Medals for outstanding work on behalf of the University. Recipients were recognized during commencement and honored at a dinner in conjunction with the Columbia Alumni Association Assembly Leadership Conference.

For the full list of the 2009 honorands, recipients of the presidential award for excellence in teaching and the alumni medalists, please visit the 2009 Columbia University Commencement website.

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