Dean Eggers delivered the below address at the SPS Graduation Ceremony on May 12, 2023.
On behalf of the Trustees and all the Faculty, congratulations to the Columbia University School of Professional Studies Class of 2023!
I am so honored to be here with you all and to have served as your Dean.
Let us begin with some acknowledgments. Thank you to our University leadership, including the Executive Vice President of Arts and Sciences and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Amy Hungerford; Provost Mary C. Boyce; and our Trustees.
I would also like to add a special thanks to President Lee C. Bollinger and his wife, Jean Magnano Bollinger, for all that they have done for this great institution.
During President Bollinger’s two-decade tenure, the University has flourished. New initiatives have been created or expanded across disciplines, and he has pushed for a thoughtful approach to global engagement and has fostered a dedication to diversity in education. We look forward to honoring his legacy and showcasing all we have learned from him as we welcome President-Designate Nemat “Minouche” Shafik.
Thank you, President Bollinger. We owe you much.
Thank you to our SPS leadership team, especially the Executive Staff: Senior Vice Dean Steven Cohen and Associate and Senior Associate Deans Zelon Crawford, Erik Nelson, Sonal Pande, and Louise Rosen. Our leadership team marshaled us through the academic year ably and with marked assiduousness.
Thank you to our Student Affairs staff, who support our students and help them to excel.
Thank you to our program directors, whose careful planning and professional expertise guided our academic programs and students through their shared success today.
And thank you to our esteemed faculty. We are also here to celebrate your accomplishments, and the advances you have made across a diverse range of fields and industries.
Great thanks are due to the SPS Student Government, including President Caitlin Lasher, Vice President Beverly Gu, Secretary Meghna Jayakrishnan, Treasurer Rebecca Grinberg, and Student Senator Camilo Garcia, who connect our students with our administration, so that we can clear the way to meet the diverse needs and goals of our students during their time at Columbia.
But most of all, today we celebrate the Class of 2023.
Thank you to everyone who has supported our students. We recognize the families, parents, spouses, partners, children, friends, mentors, and colleagues. All of you have helped this class in their journey to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University. Graduates, please take a moment to applaud those who made it possible for you to be here today.
Let’s take a moment to ponder the meaning of the word “university.” The word owes its derivation to this phrase: universitas magistrorum et scholarium—a community of teachers and scholars. Our University is a sacred place of learning, where freedom of thought flourishes and open discourse flows, unfettered by narrow-mindedness. SPS brings together graduate students from all over the world—and from various points in their lives and careers.
Opposite Lewisohn Hall, just to the west of Low Library and Alma Mater, is a circular bench around a flagpole. The flagpole was presented on May 20, 1896, by members of the Grand Army of the Republic. Inscribed on a plaque is a simple dedication that reads:
Those who donated it were thinking about our country: our republic, and the freedoms we all enjoy. But perhaps it represents something deeper: By protecting our academic freedoms, we protect our society—and democracy itself.
This University—our beautifully diverse community of staff, faculty, students, and alumni—embodies these values and all that we hold dear: freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and the freedom for all to pursue education. However, we must be vigilant in the defense of these ideals.
As we celebrate your accomplishments today, let us acknowledge your part in this important community of teachers and scholars. Let us acknowledge the trust you put in Columbia, your instructors, and your fellow students. Let us also acknowledge the great motivation you had to fulfill your ambitions.
And you did it. While you may have pursued vastly different subjects, you are all united as a class. Each one of you—and all of you together—have the power to love, cherish, and defend the values we all hold dear.
We do this by making access to education a priority—by establishing fellowships and funds to provide opportunities for others to pursue their degrees. Last year, our Wealth Management students created the Advancing Diversity Fellowship, and this year welcomed its first fellowship recipient. Great things happen when we hold each other up as a community.
Last fall, the Columbia HBCU Fellowship Program celebrated its fifth anniversary. This program creates opportunities not only for students but for top employers, by providing them with a pipeline of world-class talent. But the impact and meaning of this program go even deeper. Amyre Brandom-Skinner, here today as a graduate from our Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program had this to say: “My HBCU instilled in me the notion that I am young, gifted, Black, and powerful beyond measure; my time at Columbia forced me to fully grasp and apply these teachings.”
Soon you will be alumni of this great institution, but your ties to your programs and to your class are indelible. Your classwork and capstones engaged executives at Fortune 500 companies, global non-profits, and NGOs, and inspired them to try new methods and strategies. You know that you must engage with the world to change the world.
This is exemplified by the winner of the Career Design Lab’s pitch competition, the Greater Good Challenge. Lavar Matthews, here today as a graduate of the Human Capital Management program, and two SPS alumni will now be able to expand a community gathering place called the Wash House, which provides holistic services and support to low-income communities in Edwards, Mississippi.
As Columbia graduates, you take with you all you have learned from this community of teachers and scholars. Use your unique talents to improve the lives of those around you. Defend what you love and cherish. And strive to make the world a better place, however you may.
To the Class of 2023: thank you, and congratulations.