At Third Master's Ceremony, Butts Calls for a Conversation about Character
Published in Convocation
President Susan Fuhrman highlighted the accomplishments of two graduating students: Brennan DuBose, who launched and hosted a talk-show web series, The Conversation, featuring students and faculty discussing critical issues related to diversity, culture, and social justice; and Claire O’Neill, who is returning to teach in Rhode Island at a Montessori school founded by her mother.
An event created by DuBose in April, titled “The State of African-American Males In Urban Education,” brought together a first-ever panel of five African-American male Columbia professors in TC’s Milbank Chapel.
“Brennan credits his late grandmother, Louise Wingfield McNair, for telling him he could accomplish anything if he worked hard enough,” Fuhrman said. “She would be so proud that today he is receiving his degree in Communications and Education.”
O’Neill studied with TC education anthropologist George Bond, who passed away earlier this spring.
“Claire is taking the path of Maria Montessori, who herself studied anthropology,” Fuhrman said. “Montessori developed her methods and curriculum by observing children in classrooms to discover what they were interested in, what they ignored, and what they needed to learn. Professor Bond, who spent years in villages in Zambia and Uganda, was a master of just that kind of anthropological observation.
“Somewhere, George Bond is smiling upon you and all his students graduating this week,” Fuhrman told O’Neill.
Fuhrman was followed to the podium by the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, who was receiving the College’s Medal for Distinguished Service.
Butts, President of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury, and Pastor of Harlem’s famous Abyssinian Baptist Church, told the graduates that they are now “soldiers in the fight to continuously educate our population to make the United States of America even greater than it is today.”
That work, Butts said, requires a conversation about three things: our national character, which he believes should be defined by “the avoidance of luxury;” courtesy of the sort that involves “not just holding the door for someone or taking your hat off when they enter the room” but instead, genuine concern for others’ wellbeing; and an appreciation of beauty.
“I say, love yourself, find out who you are and never back up – and never let your love for yourself turn you against others,” he said.
Echoing Butts, student speaker Yasmin Nooreddin-Ibrahim (Organizational Psychology) told her fellow graduates, “My question to myself and to you, is not about what we intend to write in this new chapter, but rather how we will write it, and why?”
In an age of information overload, Nooreddin-Ibrahim asked, how much of what we know “has been internalized as experiential knowledge that guides our actions in a meaningful direction?”
She urged her classmates to “reflect on how our formal education, social media, and other sources of information, have helped us acknowledge who we are, what we stand for, and what our purpose is, as human beings.”
Nooreddin-Ibrahim concluded with “a rough translation” of a poem by Imam Shafi, a 9th century Muslim scholar and sage:
There can be no rest for one of culture and intellect,
So travel. Leave the shores of what you know.
Travel! Seek new friendships and horizons.
And strive! The sweetness of life is in the to and fro.
I have seen water stagnate if it stops running,
The beauty of water is in its ebb and flow.