“I trace everything I’ve done so far professionally, back to GS,” says 2006 graduate and class salutatorian Pavan Surapaneni. “GS took a chance on me that no one else would—and for that reason, I joined RALC—and I now serve on the Board of Visitors.”
That “chance” to which Pavan refers, is one to which many GSers can relate. Before enrolling at the School of General Studies in 2002, the now attorney was a high school dropout and troubled teen. After a life-altering experience, he sought help, earned his high school diploma at The John Dewey Academy, and found a new path. Once at Columbia and part of a community of diverse and dynamic students, Pavan worked harder than ever before, and it paid off. Upon graduation, he attended Harvard Law School.
Today, Pavan is an Associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, a leading law firm based in New York City. He landed a position there after serving as a Summer Associate during both of his summers breaks while in law school. After briefly meeting a partner of the firm at a job fair during his first semester in Cambridge, Mass. he was invited to join them for the summer. “They were interested in me not based on my Harvard grades—because at that point I hadn’t earned any. They were interested in me solely based on my work at GS,” recalled Pavan.
As an attorney, Pavan helps clients evaluate and allocate the risk of, and negotiate and ultimately close, business transactions. For example, Pavan was one of the members of the S&C team advising Frank McCourt in connection with the settlement of his divorce and martial property dispute over—and subsequent sale of—the Los Angeles Dodgers. The transaction involved coordinating a number of different lawyers from different legal disciplines along with brokering an unprecedented agreement with the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball and Guggenheim Baseball Management, which eventually acquired the team, its media rights, and real estate that included Dodgers Stadium.
Such deals can be stressful and allconsuming, so to decompress, Pavan heads to the hills—but not just any hill. An avid hiker and climber, Pavan takes day trips out of Manhattan up to the Hudson Highlands and Cold Spring, N.Y. to challenging sites like the one that hikers call Breakneck Ridge. Or during the colder months, he goes ice climbing in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. “I was born in Maine, so I was born to be in the mountains,” he said.
When Pavan has more time, he climbs some of the world’s tallest peaks. Every two years, after extensive training and preparation, he picks a new summit to conquer. To his credit thus far, he counts Mount Aconcágua in Argentina, Mount Elbrus in Russia, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and Mount Rainier in Washington State, to name a few. This June, he took a month off from work to climb to the summit of Denali (also known as Mount McKinley) in Alaska, a vast wilderness of forest, tundra, rocky landscapes, and glaciers.
“When you’re on the mountain, you must be in the moment. You must focus on each step to do it safely. And when you’re able to stop, you look around at the stunning views and think, ‘Wow, this is beautiful!’ There’s no time to think about work and the stress it brings. You have to think about how you are going to take the next step,” said Pavan.