Class Day

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Class Day is like graduation, but not really (University Commencement, at which students are formally conferred their degrees, is held on a separate day). These celebrations, held for each of Columbia's schools, feature student speakers (usually class presidents and valedictorians or salutatorians, depending on the school) and keynote speakers (usually alumni), and an occasion for students to have their names called out, walk across the stage, and shake hands with the Dean and the president. Their existence forces students' parents to spend an extra day or two dealing with their children's commencement. The upshot is that the ceremonies are more intimate and personal. Both the Columbia College and SEAS ceremony includes a Parade of Classes.

Instead getting a diploma, undergraduate students receive a Class Pin from members of the 50th reunion class of that year.


The first class day for Columbia College was held in 1865.[1]

The location of Class Days has shifted considerably over time, moving between indoor and outdoor locations. Columbia College Class Day was held in the University Gymnasium around 1907, on "the Green between Earl and Mines" in 1921, and in McMillan Theater in 1931.[2] In 1938, Class Day was held on the Van Am Quadrangle. In 1943, ceremonies moved indoors again, to Brander Matthews Hall. Over the years, Class Day exercises have gradually migrated to South Lawn. However, Barnard's Class Days have often been held in Dodge Gym.

In 1944 due to "wartime difficulties," Class Day for Columbia College was held without cap and gown.

Although speeches have become the focal point of Class Day, in earlier years, prior to the establishment of the Academic Awards Ceremony, the focus was on distributing prizes. In 1941, for example, there were no designated speakers at Columbia College Class Day other than University President Butler, Dean Hawkes, and the valedictorian and salutatorian.

In subsequent years a Senior Banquet was held on the same day, during which students would hear from an invited speaker, but the integrated Class Day speaker tradition did not begin until the later decades of the 20th century.

Speaker Complaints

Speakers at recent class days have stirred howls of complaint. Supposedly there is a rule the speaker must be an alumnus of their school, which accounts for Columbia's less famous speakers relative to our peer institutions. However, this rule has been ignored by CC when speakers such as novelist Ralph Ellison or Senator John McCain have agreed to speak, and does not apply to GS when the administration finds it convenient. Barnard does not have this rule.

In 1991, students circulated a petition hoping to disinvite 1968 protests leader Juan Gonzalez as speaker; Gonzalez spoke anyway. Among the complaints were that literally no one apart from the class president could identify who Gonzalez was when the choice was announced.

In 2006, Senator John McCain (whose daughter is CC '07) spoke, and some students expressed disapproval arguing that he did not represent the political beliefs of most CC students.

Matthew Fox, a star of TV's Lost, was the speaker for 2007, and was seen as an underwhelming or inappropriate choice for such a serious occasion, although his speech turned out well-received. These controversies generally involve petulant members of the senior class, who desire a meaningful close to their four year stint at the university, i.e. a charismatic intellectual celebrity.

In 2012, controversy was ignited again when President Barack Obama, a Columbia College alumnus, opted to speak at Barnard College's Class Day, despite entreaties from CC.

Class Day speakers

Undergraduate School Speakers

Year Columbia College SEAS General Studies Barnard College
2014 Dan Futterman '89CC Gale Brewer '97GS
2013 Terrence McNally '60CC Robert Bakish '85SEAS, '89BUS Nicholas Dirks Leymah Gbowee
2012 John MacArthur '78CC Ursula Burns '82SEAS Thomas Reardon '08GS Barack Obama '83CC
2011 Alexandra Wallace Creed '88CC Ralph Izzo '79SEAS Roger Leeds '66GS Sheryl Sandberg
2010 Benjamin Jealous '94CC Paul Brandt-Rauf '70, '74SEAS; '79P&S; '87PH Jacques Pepin '70GS Meryl Streep
2009 Eric Holder '73CC James Albaugh '74SEAS M.S. Philippe Reines '00GS Hillary Clinton
2008 Joel Klein '67CC Armen A. Avanessians '83SEAS M.S. Alicia Graf '03GS Michael Bloomberg
2007 Matthew C. Fox '89CC Santiago Calatrava Parent '06, '07, '08, '09SEAS Deborah Marshall, '79GS Anna Deavere Smith
2006 John McCain Parent '07CC Raymond P. Daddazio '75, '76, '82SEAS Antonio Luis Freitas '97GS Francine du Plessix Gray '52BC
2005 Robert Kraft '63CC Mynoon Doro '73SEAS Michael Margitich, '99GS
2004 Tony Kushner '78CC [2] Savio Tung '73SEAS; Parent '01SEAS, '11B Carlos Fedrigotti, '73GS
2003 George Stephanopoulos '82CC [3] Michael Massimino '84SEAS [4]
2002 David J. Stern '66L [5] Jeffrey Bleustein [6]
2001 David Boies Russell Bassette R. W. Apple, Jr '61GS
2000 Brian Dennehy '60CC Peter Slosberg '72SEAS; '74B; Parent '04SEAS
1999 Claire Shipman '86CC David E. Shaw
1998 Judge Joseph A. Greenaway '78CC Norman R. Augustine Joyce Purnick '67BC
1997 Jonathan Kozol David Marks Anna Quindlen '74BC
1996 Robert Rubin Y.D. Kim Joseph Califano
1995 Tom Brokaw Samuel L. Higginbottom '43CC, '43SEAS Madeleine Albright '68GSAS, '76SIPA
1994 Fritz Stern '46CC Eleanor Baum Sheila E. Widnall
1993 Marian Wright Edelman Anna K. Longobardo '49, '52SEAS
1992 Louis Harris Lee-Un Chung
1991 Juan Gonzalez '98CC
1990 Ralph Ellison Madeleine Kunin
1989 Herman Wouk '34CC Mary Gordon '71BC
1987 Anthony Lewis Charles S. Robb
1986 Thomas Kean MA (TC)
1984 Vartan Gregorian
1983 Mario Cuomo
1982 Carol Bellamy
1980 Shirley Hufstedler


  • Part of James Russell's valedictory speech was delivered in ancient Armenian
  • In 2010, the General Studies valedictorian, Brian Corman, plagiarized part of his speech from comedian Patton Oswalt
  • In 1961, valedictorian John Vaio delivered the first Latin Valedictory at Columbia since 1901, while his classmates followed along with English translations.[3]