The Last Lesson
Published in TC Today - Volume 29, No. 1
President Arthur Levine refers to the stories of the lives of the TC medalists as that last lesson.
At convocation ceremonies each year, TC recognizes individuals for their exemplary contributions to education and society with the Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service and the Cleveland E. Dodge Medal for Distinguished Service to Education. Seven people received honors this year and addressed graduates at one doctoral and two master's convocations held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on May 18 and 19.
Medalist Jane Goodall, whose pioneering work with chimpanzees set the standards for primate research, spoke of the importance of educating young people about conservation and cross-cultural understanding, and voiced her congratulations with a chimp call of excitement.
Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation, was honored for working to make literacy a reality around the world and his role in "righting the wrongs of our education system." He told graduates a teacher's greatest attribute is to find talents that students don't realize they have.
Honored for his work as one of the world's great peacemakers, Disney Chairman and former Senator George Mitchell spoke of the one teacher who changed his life-Elvira Widden. She inspired a love of reading that "opened a world of knowledge" that he barely knew existed.
The other Medalists-National Book Award-winning author Jonathan Kozol, Stanford University Psychology Professor Claude Steele and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger-focused on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. All three lamented that, despite advances such as Brown, social and economic segregation still exist today. Kozol called it "social apartheid" and Steele referred to it as "tolerated segregation," saying, "Truly equal education is impossible if it is not truly integrated education." Bollinger, who fought a legal battle in support of affirmative action while president of the University of Michigan, remarked, "It is hard for me to understand that we are ready to live in a world where property values determine the kind of education a child receives." And President Levine told the graduates, "When we admitted you and educated you and now are graduating you, we hoped you would be the people who would change those realities."
The Cleveland E. Dodge Medal honored business leader William Ruane for his contributions to the field of education through the work of his foundation, the Carmel Hill Fund. Ruane spoke of the foundation's work to help low-income families on one block in Harlem. By improving housing, providing essential services, working with teachers and expanding the local school library, the Carmel Hill Fund has given hope and a future to the families involved.
The graduates' degrees were conferred on May 19 at the Columbia University commencement exercises which also celebrated the 250th anniversary of the university. The wet weather failed to dampen the spirits of the graduates who took part in the outdoor ceremony on Columbia's main campus.