The School of General Studies celebrated the Class of 2018 at the GS Class Day ceremony on Monday, May 14. Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch opened the ceremony and welcomed more than 1,800 guests, who joined faculty and administrators in recognizing the accomplishments of the 512 members of the graduating class, 164 of whom are New Americans or international students, 55 of whom will be graduating from the Dual BA program with Sciences Po, and 106 of whom are U.S. Military veterans, the most of any Ivy League university and the largest cohort of U.S. veterans to graduate from Columbia since World War II.
The ninth Dean of the School of General Studies and first alumna Dean, Dean Rosen-Metsch also welcomed special guest Milton “Mickey” Meshirer, a GS alumna whose granddaughter is graduating with the Class of 2018. Mickey started at GS in 1949, just two years after the creation of the school. Though his studies were interrupted by military service in Korea, he returned to GS following his service and graduated in 1954. “He joins us 64 years later to celebrate his granddaughter’s accomplishments and we get to congratulate Mickey and his family’s legacy at the School of General Studies,” Rosen-Metsch said.
Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger spoke next and remarked that “General Studies is a truly, truly unique, rare institution; there’s nothing else like it in the United States and possibly the world. And that’s something that Columbia takes enormous pride in. Columbia wouldn’t be Columbia without General Studies.”
Following President Bollinger was President Frédéric Mion of Sciences Po, Europe’s leading university in the social sciences. He spoke of the common history of Sciences Po and GS and the collaborative, groundbreaking Dual BA Program that began eight years ago between the two schools. He implored the students with some parting words as they prepare to graduate.
“The future is yours. The time has come for you to get out into the world and as you go forth, I beseech you to be ambitious in proportion to the dreams that we harbor for you; I beseech you to be generous in proportion to the gifts that have been so lavishly bestowed upon you; I beseech you to be humble in proportion to the number and magnitude of the challenges with which our planet is faced; I beseech you to be joyful in proportion to the gloom that so many feel it is their duty to spread; and I beseech you to give as much love as you possibly can.”
Class Day Keynote Speaker Sasha Cohen ’16—an Olympic medalist, U.S. Olympic Committee representative, contributing documentarian, and writer—was introduced by Columbia Senior Lecturer in Economics, Sunil Gulati. Cohen encouraged graduates to look around them and appreciate what being a student at Columbia means to them. “You’re here because you wanted to be here,” she said.
She elaborated on her figure skating career and training for the Olympics, and after retiring from competitive skating at the age of 25, was not sure what was next. “I was spending half of my free time at the public library and I was hungry for a structured education. I decided to apply to Columbia School of General Studies.”
Cohen concluded by sharing pieces of advice she’s learned since graduating from GS: “Destinations are overrated, it’s about the journey”; “Define what success means for you”; and “Just show up every day; even when you think you cannot…you can’t control how things turn out, but you can show up.”
In her address to the Class of 2018, Salutatorian Marysol Yoo described how she went from being “just a nerd drop-out,” holding down multiple jobs, and overcoming seeing herself as a failure to becoming a GS student. After traumatic experiences during childhood, depression and anxiety surfaced, which led her to leave college. Citing research about fixed mindset versus growth mindset in regards to achievement, she shared how these elements influenced her life and helped her after dropping out of college. “My story turned from being one that was disabled, by my situations both present and past, to one that has a deep understanding that nothing in life is a failure; rather perhaps it is not a success…yet.”
Following these speeches, Kirsty Jardine ‘15GS, ‘16PH, Co-chair of the General Studies Alumni Association, presented Kevin Graves with the Alumni Key Award for academic achievement and outstanding service to the School, and Dean Rosen-Metsch presented the Campbell Award Pawel Maslag for exceptional leadership and Columbia spirit.
Upon the presentation of the 2018 degree candidates by Dean of Students Tom Harford, Dean Rosen-Metsch introduced the Class of 2018 Valedictorian, Justice Betty. A graduate of the Dual BA Program Between Columbia University and Sciences Po, “Justice knew from the age of four that she wanted to run for political office in her home country, and in the ensuing years pursued volunteer positions in government and on more than a dozen political campaigns,” said Rosen-Metsch.
In her valedictory address, Betty encouraged her fellow graduates to think back to their four-year-old selves and remember what their dreams were. “We can still preserve our propensity as four-year-olds to dream without limits. As we walk across this stage, we walk through a confluence of dreams, abilities, and opportunities,” said Betty.
She spoke about a moment at orientation when Dean Harford asked the incoming students to stand if: they were the first in their family to go to college, a Dual BA student, a veteran, working full time to support themselves while attending GS, a community college transfer student, a parent, and whether they were new to New York or a native New Yorker. “After a few moments, we were all proudly standing,” said Betty. “Many of us have done the impossible, having followed a non-traditional path, contending with college life struggles, alongside real lifestruggles, from working full time to raising a family. And our presence today—and our successes—are proof of what can happen when we take the opportunity or take a moment in our busy lives to dream.”
A member of the GS Honor Society, Pi Sigma Alpha, and Phi Beta Kappa, Betty graduates summa cum laude with two bachelor’s degrees: one in social sciences from Sciences Po and one in political science from Columbia. Upon graduation, she will return to Toronto to join McKinsey & Company.
“As the first class to graduate in my first semester as Dean, you will always hold a special place in my heart,” said Rosen-Metsch. She went on to conclude: “You embody in a spectacular way the mission and vision of Columbia School of General Studies and Columbia University.”
This year’s graduates join a variety of industries, including the arts, finance, law, and health care, where they will work for organizations such as McKinsey & Company, Goldman Sachs, Google, the National Institutes of Health, IBM, and Teach for America. Many will pursue advanced degrees at institutions including Harvard, Sciences Po, Oxford, Yale, and Stanford.