Ask Alma's Owl: Shine on Columbia
Originally published May 11, 2012
With 18 schools participating in the University Commencement, how does each one get its chance to shine?
Dear Proud Parent,
The Commencement program is a fine-tuned operation dating back 258 years, though the iconic Morningside campus outdoor ceremony began in 1926. The deans from Columbia’s 16 schools and two affiliates, Barnard College and Teachers College, process from Low Library in the order in which their schools were founded—beginning with Columbia College, then the law school, followed by the engineering school, architecture and so on until, last but not least, continuing education.
While each school holds individual graduation ceremonies, University President Lee C. Bollinger is the only person who can confer the actual degrees. Every dean steps forward to request that he do so, a tradition that has become the most light-hearted part of the ceremony.
“Mr. President,” said General Studies Dean Peter Awn at last year’s rain-drenched ceremony, “to your right and perched on Olympian heights stand the godlike candidates of the School of General Studies. Drenched in the light of wisdom, drowning in debt, soaked to the core by a torrent of innovative and creative ideas, whose commitment to the life of the mind will never be dampened.”
These speeches are an opportunity for each dean to creatively boast about his or her school, and there’s a can-you-top-this aspect as the adjectives pile up.
School of the Arts Dean Carol Becker last year lauded her graduates, who had “dazzled, amused, terrified, astonished and surprised us and each other with their boundless enthusiasm and creativity,” she said. Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School, presented “the entrepreneurial, the opportunity-ready and, I certify to you, the bailout-free candidates of the Faculty of Business,” he said. “Please take stock of my bond, sir, accept my warrant, look on them with interest, for they have completed the requirements prescribed by that faculty.”
Then the deans hand Bollinger ceremonial scrolls representing the list of their graduating students. After they all have spoken, Bollinger rises and says, “In accordance with the authority vested in me as president of the University, I now admit each of you to the degree for which you have been qualified, in token whereof you will subsequently receive your diploma.” Cheers, applause and happy mayhem ensue as the Class of 2012 is then official and the students become alumni.