By Allison Scola with Jane Haseman
More than 500 alumni of the School of General Studies returned to campus from June 1 to 4 to participate in the 2017 All-Year Reunion that celebrated the School’s 70th anniversary and honored outgoing dean Peter J. Awn, who, after 20 years of leadership, is stepping down.
At the GS Reunion Kickoff Reception held on Friday evening, more than 100 alumni enjoyed a spirited cocktail reception at Bernheim & Schwartz, the former home of The West End, showcasing a student-led blues band, appropriately called the Night Owls. Featuring current GS students Anna Troy and Sondra Woodruff, both playing guitars and singing, Tony Senatore ’17, playing electric bass, and GS Director of Educational Financing Skip Bailey on drums, the quartet filled the room with original songs and well-known standards.
After remarks by reunion co-chairs Aspasia Burnworth ’15 and Jessica Garza ’09, attendees mingled amidst displays illustrating GS’s history and a photo booth complete with costume-like props. The highlight of the evening was when alumnus Rory Hayden ’67 won the raffle prize, a lunch with Dean Awn—an event Hayden was able to fit in before returning to California, his home for the last 48 years. Hayden and his wife came to New York for the first time since tranferring west to attend Reunion.
The evening’s capstone was a Night Owls-led sing-along of the 1973 song “Ooh La La” by The Faces. Newly named “Grand Old GS,” GS Director of Educational Financing Skip Bailey wrote new lyrics that detailed the community’s appreciation for Dean Awn’s leadership.
The evening’s capstone was a Night Owls-led sing-along of the 1973 song “Ooh La La” by The Faces. Newly named “Grand Old GS,” Bailey wrote new lyrics that detailed the community’s appreciation for Dean Awn’s leadership. “’Cause Dean Awn believed in what this school could be… A perfect place for those like me with a different history!” Alumni raised a glass and enthusiastically sang the chorus, “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger…”
Saturday, the weekend’s hub of activity, featured everything from intellectually-minded events such as the keynote presented by Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Dr. Richard Axel ’67CC and mini-core classes and lectures to socially driven luncheons, wine tastings, and the annual Starlight Reception dance party on Low Plaza.
The Dean’s Luncheon, held in the Skyline Room of the Faculty House featured several speakers including Senior Executive Director for Alumni Relations at the Columbia Alumni Association Michael DiSarno and a panel of current GS students led by Kirsty Jardine ’15, ’16PH. DiSarno invited GS alumni to become involved with not only the General Studies Alumni Association (GSAA) but also the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA).
The student panel, which included Estrella Verenice Castillo, Raisa Flor, Steven Ballew, and Justice Betty, was a heartwarming discussion that gave alumni a glimpse into the lives of current General Studies students—from the definitive nontraditional student to the newer nontraditional student, those in dual-degree programs.
The weekend’s events reached a fever pitch, when more than 400 alumni, guests, and friends of GS gathered for the elegant 70th Anniversary Dinner: A Final Tribute to Dean Awn, which featured presentations, video montages, light displays, and outstanding cocktails and cuisine.
Important to note was that during the luncheon, reunion co-chair Burnworth recognized alumni in attendance who were celebrating more than 50 years since graduation: Grace Krumwiede ’52, Ralph Cox ’54, Joyce Hurley ’58, and Howard Copland ’67.
During the afternoon, alumni then pondered the meaning and significance of truth with a panel hosted by GS and chaired by Professor Carol Gluck and featuring guest speakers from our international partner-universities Sciences Po and Trinity College Dublin. “Universities in a Post-Truth World,” explored how we think we know things, how information acquires the status of truth, and how data is deployed to advance claims.
At an early evening affinity reception for veterans, Major Michael Abrams, U.S. Marine Corps reservist and the Executive Director for the Columbia University Center for Veteran Transition and Integration, spoke about crisis response following terrorist attacks. In a captivating presentation, Abrams called upon his personal experience having been the Commanding Officer of the Marine Corps Reserve unit in Chattanooga, Tenn., when on July 16, 2015, a deranged young man opened fire on a Naval Operational Support Center, killing four Marines and mortally wounding a Sailor.
The weekend’s events reached a fever pitch at 6:30 p.m., when more than 400 alumni, guests, and friends of GS gathered for the elegant 70th Anniversary Dinner: A Final Tribute to Dean Awn, which featured presentations, video montages, light displays, and outstanding cocktails and cuisine.
“Much is written, spoken and taught about leadership these days,” said Larry Lawrence ’69, ’71BUS, one of the evening’s featured speakers, “But Peter exemplifies a particular kind of leadership which is not easily taught—a tradition of leadership as service, not in pursuit of individual or even institutional glory, but in the passionate and energetic pursuit of creating the best of possible experiences for others.”
Lawrence announced the creation of the Peter J. Awn Scholarship Fund, with its donations and commitments already amounting to over $2.2 million, he invited attendees to help grow the endowment.
In recognition of exceptional leadership and service, Philip Ehrlich ’88, president emeritus of the GS Alumni Association, and Anita Christy ’88 and co-chair of the GS Alumni Association Awards Committee,presented Dean Awn with the recently re-instated Owl Award, given to individuals whose lives and accomplishments are distinguished by eminence in public service and a sustained commitment to creating and building community, supporting and enriching school programs, and enhancing student life.
Borough President of the New York City borough of Manhattan Gale Brewer ’97 along with Aries Dela Cruz ’09 presented an official proclamation, declaring June 3, 2017 “Dr. Peter J. Awn Appreciation Day in the Borough of Manhattan,” in recognition of Awn’s commitment to improving New York City and vibrantly enriching the community.
Through their chants and applause, attendees demanded Awn to speak upon receiving the award. Upon re-ascending the stage, Awn stated, “If there was one thing I wanted … and I said this to Lee Bollinger, it was that we use this past year to make a difference in the lives of GS students. To have a scholarship in my name, you offer me the opportunity to stay connected in a tangible way to the men and women of GS who are here now and who will come after you. Please honor me by donating to the scholarship.”
One of the highlights of the evening was when the 27th and current Borough President of the New York City borough of Manhattan Gale Brewer ’97 along with Aries Dela Cruz ’09 presented an official proclamation, declaring June 3, 2017 “Dr. Peter J. Awn Appreciation Day in the Borough of Manhattan,” in recognition of Awn’s commitment to improving New York City and vibrantly enriching the community.
Towards the conclusion of the evening, an enthusiastic Christopher Riano ’07, co-chair emeritus of the Recent Alumni Leadership Committee and co-chair emeritus of the GS Alumni Association, introduced the evening’s honoree, saying “by providing access for—and more importantly, embracing fully—those who otherwise would lack these opportunities, you have put forth into the world leaders in science, art, religion, medicine, and the humanities.
“Frankly, you’ve given more to me, and transformed me, more than anything I have been able to do at GS. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
- Peter J. Awn
“Tonight, we celebrate you, and all you have done to make those of us here, those of us near, and those of us far, simply put—possible,” Riano said.
An exuberant crowd called Awn to the stage.
During his remarks, which outlined the accomplishments of GS students and alumni over the 20 years of his leadership and highlighted the School’s current prominence within the University, Awn said, “Frankly, you’ve given more to me, and transformed me, more than anything I have been able to do at GS. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”