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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Embracing Service and Partnership

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Embracing Service and Partnership

Filmaker Spike Lee, a 2010 Medal for Distinguished Service recipient, addresses the graduates. Photograph by Lisa Farmer


“Perhaps for the first time in history, education shines as the coin of the realm in world affairs,” President Susan Fuhrman told TC’s 2010 graduates at the College’s convocation ceremonies in May at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. “And yet, we are fighting uphill battles together on multiple fronts to protect this precious currency.”

Fuhrman warned against a “rising tide of ridicule, suspicion and anger, aimed at the very people who are best prepared to tackle and solve society’s toughest problems—educated professionals like you.” She urged the 1,200 master’s degree graduates and about 240 doctoral recipients to avoid the example of Dr. McCoy, of the TV series “Star Trek,” who perennially asserts the things he is not (“I’m a surgeon, not a psychiatrist!”). “In today’s world, where collaboration and innovation go hand in hand, we need to embrace partnerships with professionals across all fields and with the communities we serve,” Fuhrman said.

Other speakers highlighted the importance of teaching, service work and research. “We know that education is the key to unlocking human potential,” Jill Biden, community college educator and wife of Vice President Joseph Biden, told doctoral candidates. “And we know that today…millions of students are ready—and that it is a teacher who can spark their love of learning into a fire that burns for a lifetime.”

TC alumnus and former New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills, one of the three recipients of the College’s 2010 Medal for Distinguished Service, said that “Americans have an amazing faith in education.” Recalling that, as Commissioner on the day after the 9/11 disaster, he kept all the schools in Manhattan open, Mills said, “We proclaimed our freedom.”

Filmmaker Spike Lee, another medalist, declared, “I am an educator also,” and recalled his grandmother, who taught for 50 years in segregated Georgia and “never had the pleasure of teaching a single white student.
“She saved her Social Security checks and put me through college, so I’m a product of what education can do,” Lee said.

Medalist Gail Collins, New York Times columnist, predicted that the current budget crisis and taxpayers’ general unwillingness to pay for teachers and other public servants will pass. “Soon, they will be on their knees begging for your services,” Collins told graduates.

The two student speakers also sounded notes of urgency and hope.

“We are all creative members of the community,” said Jaymie Stein, who received her degree in Art and Art Education. Stein immediately proved her point by unveiling a giant “Peace Puppet” she had created in honor of young students she has worked with through the Harlem Children’s Zone.

Patrick Ko, a master’s degree graduate of TC’s Klingenstein Center for Independent School Education, urged his fellow graduates to tackle seemingly insurmountable systemic challenges that are depriving children worldwide of essential opportunities. “Hard work must be done to carve out a more promising journey for our future generations,” Ko said. “Activism, advocacy and policy work are essential for social change…we must give ourselves the authority to lead.”

Visit www.tc.edu/news/7486 to view video of TC’s full 2010 convocation ceremonies.


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