The School of General Studies celebrated the Class of 2015 at the GS Class Day ceremony on Monday, May 18. More than 1,500 guests joined faculty and administrators in recognizing the accomplishments of the 447 members of the graduating class, 69 of whom are U.S. Military veterans, more than any other Ivy League.
This year's class also included 27 students who graduated from the Dual BA Program between Columbia University and Sciences Po, the first official graduating class, and three students who graduated from the Joint Bachelor’s Degree Program between Columbia University and the City University of Hong Kong. Eleven percent of the graduates were new Americans and international students, hailing from 31 states and more than 49 countries, demonstrating that GS is a truly global platform for tomorrow’s leaders and citizens of the world.
Dean Peter J. Awn opened the ceremony by recognizing the School of General Studies' remarkable role at Columbia, providing students from all walks of life, such as dancers, military vets, visual artists and working parents, with one-of-a-kind stories, the unique opportunity to pursue an Ivy League education, making Columbia's undergraduate experience different from that at any other Ivy League institution.
Addressing the members of GS Class 2015, Awn referred to students as the representatives of the “cutting edge of American undergraduate education.” He further remarked, “You have proven yourselves, through academic accomplishments and your education, to one another and to Columbia.”
President Lee C. Bollinger was unable to attend this year’s GS Class Day, as he was being conferred with an honorary degree ”another Ivy League university”. He did, however, address the faculty, students and guests in a video message, thanking Awn for his continued, exceptional commitment to GS and reinforcing Awn's words about the importance of the School of General Studies within the University.
Class Day Keynote Speaker distinguished alumnus Christopher Hood ‘91, President of Kellogg Europe, flew into New York from his home in Geneva to attend the event. He explained that the GS experience had changed his relationship with the world, proving transformational and resulting in both personal and intellectual growth.
He encouraged graduates to expand the vision of who and what they can be, committing themselves to a lifetime of intellectual growth and curiosity, and no matter what, being a leader that stays true to him or herself.
“Focus outside of yourself to inspire others and make a difference in the world,” Hood remarked.
Salutatorian Andrew King then spoke about his nontraditional educational path after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. He applied the same discipline he had learned in the military to his studies at GS, excelling in his courses and being named to the Dean’s List and to the GS Honor Society in 2014.
At the beginning of his time at GS, as a “solitary scholar,” King found himself “buried in the stacks” and not engaging with fellow students. He soon realized, though, that this was not the path to a successful and fulfilling life in the world of education.
"GPA is important but engaging with the community is just as important, if not more so," King said.
As a Middle Eastern studies major with a focus on Turkish, he was awarded the prestigious U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2013, which enabled him to spend a summer studying abroad in Turkey. Andrew wrote his senior thesis on Islamic finance.
After King’s speech, Mason C. Beard ’04, the co-chair of the General Studies Alumni Association (GSAA) presented the GS Alumni Key Award for exceptional academic achievement and a demonstration of ongoing commitment to leadership and service to the GS community to Christopher Mulligan, a member of the GS Honor Society, who majored in Computer Science with a concentration in Economics.
Following Dean of Students Tom Harford’s presentation of the 2015 degree candidates, the Valedictorian of the Class of 2015, Lindsay Hadad took center stage. Born and raised in Brooklyn to Israeli parents, Lindsay is a first-generation American who majored in psychology and served as teaching assistant for the Department of Psychology’s Abnormal Behavior course.
“It felt impossible for me to write this speech,” Hadad admitted to the cheering crowd. “I couldn’t imagine myself getting on this stage and owning this honor. From day one here [at Columbia,] I felt like a small fish in a big sea.”
It was her own struggles with depression and addiction, which she successfully overcame, that resulted in her passion for research focused on childhood development in connection to addiction.
Hadad put herself on the right path towards recovery, noting that she ultimately found meaning and purpose to the difficult journey she had traveled. This, she remarked, gave her the strength to not only recover but also help others overcome personal difficulties through her own experience.
After graduation, Lindsay Hadad plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in clinical psychology specializing in addiction.
GS Class of 2015 graduates will work in a variety of sectors, including the diverse worlds of the arts, finance, law, health care and the non-profit sector. They will be joining world-class organizations, such as Google, Citigroup, Amazon, The Huffington Post, McKinsey, IBM, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, J.P. Morgan and ABC News, to name but a few. A number of graduates will also seek higher degrees such as M.D., Ph.D., J.D., and master’s degrees at institutions including Harvard University, University of Hong Kong, Stanford University, HEC – Paris, Columbia University, Georgetown University and Sciences Po.