After a full day of lectures, tours, luncheons, and receptions, on Saturday evening, May 30, alumni in attendance at this year’s all-school Reunion were energized. Beginning with Friday night’s alumni party at Stage 48 nightclub, 171 graduates of the School of General Studies gathered together to celebrate their alma mater, reconnect with old friends, and network with new ones. Reunion Committee Chair Elizabeth Hollister ’07, along with a long list of volunteers including Yael Israel ’84, Adam Casdin ’95, and Luz Maria Lambert ’04, ’09CE, hosted graduates from classes reaching as far back as 1950. Although a focus was on those who graduated more than 50 years ago—affectionately recognized as the “Golden Owls”—such as Jules Wertheimer ’50, Nicholas Falcone Arena ’50, Grace Krumwiede ’52, John McGough ’54, and Joyce Hurley ’58, alumni from across all decades were present, including, Elaine Bernstein ’72, Catherine Scott ’84, Stephen Negron ’91, and Estelle Raboni ’97.
Saturday’s Reunion Reception and Dinner kicked off with guests getting into “GS character” at a special photo station featuring instant prints of their “close-ups.” A big attraction of the photo station were the accoutrements one could employ to enhance his or her picture—a stuffed owl, a Columbia-blue feather boa, professorial spectacles on a stick, 19th-century inspired cut-out mustaches and movie-star lips, and suspended thought-bubbles with phrases such as “I [heart] Dean Awn.”
Appreciation for Dean Peter J. Awn and the leadership he has provided for GS during his tenure extended to the weekend’s social media campaign as well. Earlier in the day, Hollister put out a call for attendees to utilize the hashtag #GSReunion2015, and attendee, GS University Senator Katharine Celentano followed suit by posting to Facebook, “I love Dean Awn. I love this school. I love both so much. What a place. #GSPride #ColumbiaReunion #GSReunion2015.
2015 All-Class Reunion
171 graduates of the School of General Studies gathered together to celebrate their alma mater, reconnect with old friends, and network with new ones.
The evening’s featured speakers concurred with Celentano’s sentiments. Lizzie Valverde ’15, a creative writing major, recalled how encouragement from her professors and generous scholarship support made it possible for her to strive towards her personal best. Maurice Decaul ’12 reminisced about the community of fellow student-veterans he encountered after serving in Iraq and how his academic advisor, Phil Mendoza, coached him through challenging phases of his tenure. In August, Valverde will be enrolling in New York University to pursue an MFA in poetry, while Decaul, who just graduated from the same NYU poetry program, will begin a second master’s program in playwriting at Brown University this August. Both expressed their appreciation for the transformative power of GS.
All alumni were invited to display cards on a set of easels detailing the remarkable transformations they experienced through opportunities afforded them as a result of their Columbia educations. Examples of the before and after GS posts were “Bartender to Wall Street Hot Shot Diva” and “Poet/Street Performer to Civil Rights Attorney.”
During her remarks, however, General Studies Alumni Association (GSAA) Co-chair Mason Beard ’04 reminded attendees that their GS story continues. She detailed the accomplishments that the new GSAA made during its first full year in existence, explaining that more than 800 alumni attended events and programs throughout the year, and more than 120 volunteered in various committees. Beard invited alumni to stay engaged with Columbia and GS, explaining that their participation will add value to their educations and careers, strengthen the greater community, and contribute to current students' post-graduation successes.
In his State of the School address during the day’s luncheon, Dean Awn also touched upon that theme, explaining that GS graduates are a “beacon for the future of selective undergraduate institutions.” He discussed not only the transformations of GS graduates he has witnessed throughout the years, but also the transformation that alumni support has enabled the School itself. For example, alumni participation made it possible for GS to raise a record-setting $250,000 on Giving Day 2014 and $850,000 for the Annual Fund so far this year—donations that support scholarships for deserving nontraditional students. He explained that, in addition to the Joint Program with List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary, programs such as the Dual BA Program Between Columbia University and Sciences Po and the Joint Bachelor’s Degree Program between City University Hong Kong and Columbia University support GS’s evolving place within the greater landscape of Columbia and international higher education.
It was a bit of magic that was equal parts Columbia Core, Duke Ellington, New York, and as we learned a bit later, good ol’ fashioned neuroscience.”
- Jan Kargulewicz '12
Dean Awn’s account fired up attendees’ sentiments for GS and Columbia as did the morning’s colloquia and afternoon’s Mini-Core lectures. Comments by an attendee at “Music Humanities: Lessons from Jazz,” a performance-lecture lead by Chris Washburne ’99GSAS, Associate Professor of Music and Director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program, inspired Jan Kargulewicz ’12. “What really struck me was a comment from an alumna who said that she’d recently begun to lose her sight. To adapt, she was learning to listen more thoughtfully to the world around her. She was emotionally moved by the sounds of the world and, when she shared this fact [with others she found], it was almost exclusively jazz musicians who were also moved by the emotional and intellectual experience of sound.
“Experiencing the next song after having shared this moment with the audience was by far my favorite moment of the weekend. It was a bit of magic that was equal parts Columbia Core, Duke Ellington, New York, and as we learned a bit later, good ol’ fashioned neuroscience,” Kargulewicz said.
Associate Professor of Psychology Valerie Purdie-Vaughns ’93CC’s talk on “Thinking about Identity (and the Cultural Implications)” and the Arthur D. Storke Memorial Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Paul Olsen’s presentation “Frontiers of Science: Birds are Dinosaurs” were just two of the many academic offerings at the All-School Reunion’s program. Furthermore, affinity group receptions for alumni of the Columbia Daily Spectator, LGBTQ community, the Marching Band, Athletics Programs , and a Veterans Reception hosted by Paul Yates ’05 and Dean Awn engaged attendees.
“Despite it being a reunion weekend, I was really happy to make so many new friends. Alumni in attendance all care so deeply about our university, the neighborhood, and about GS. It was an honor to meet them. And, it struck me that, no matter how many more reunions I go to in my lifetime, I'll probably never stop meeting people just like them, from various classes and majors,” Kargulewicz said.