2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College Columbia University

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Graduates Sing 'Happy Birthday' to Governor Hunt of North Carolina

A sunny spring day marked the Teachers College master's convocation ceremony. Street vendors sold "Class of 2000" souvenirs, bouquets of flowers and the usual hot dogs and soda to the family members who came to Amsterdam Avenue for the festivities at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

After the invocation by Columbia University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis, President Arthur Levine welcomed the students and families, and spoke briefly about the honorees. He noted that it was Governor Hunt's birthday and that the traditional birthday song was written "a long time ago by a member of the TC faculty." At that he led the audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to the Governor, concluding, "Oh, how I wish we got royalties for that song."

To honor each medalist, the professors who acted as their escorts read each citation as Dean Karen Zumwalt presented the medals. Professor Hope Jensen Leichter introduced Ellen Futter, noting her many "firsts"-including her role as the first woman to head a top-tier museum in New York City, the first woman to chair the board of directors of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, the youngest woman to be a university president, and the first and only woman to give birth during her first year as president. Futter, in her remarks, said, "There is no more rewarding experience than working with young people and no topic of greater importance than education. It is that which drew me to education and what led to the construction of the Rose Center as a vehicle for awakening curiosity and science literacy."

Professor Robert T. Carter read the citation for Henry Louis Gates, noting that many consider Gates to be "the foremost interpreter of the black experience." Carter continued, "That experience, you believe, is an integral piece to understanding the greater American experience. That experience does not separate the problems of African-Americans from the problems of our country as a whole."

After receiving his medal, Gates, in his remarks, said, "The liberal arts thrive on diversity. Pluralism isn't about policing boundaries; it is about breaking those boundaries down." He added, "We must accept Dr. [Martin Luther] King's credo that none of us is free until all of us are free."

In reading Governor Hunt's citation, Professor Betty Lou Whitford noted his many affiliations in education, including his being chair of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future at Teachers College.

After accepting his medal, the governor told the graduates, "Today we are making great progress in our schools, especially in public schools. I want you to help take them as far as they can go," adding, "I hope you will become Nationally Board Certified Teachers." He also joked, "I am here recruiting today for North Carolina schools. We are raising salaries, I might add." Dean Zumwalt then commented, "Wouldn't it be great if we had more governors like Governor Hunt."

Suniya Luthar warmly introduced her former professor, Edward Zigler of Yale University, Director of the Bush Center for Child Development. "You have said that we all have a stake in education, since children who do well in school are more likely to become productive members of society," Luthar read. "You have truly lived by that belief and have helped to make the lives of children better throughout your career."

Zigler in his acceptance speech noted that the availability of childcare in United States is woefully lacking, particularly in comparison to other industrialized nations and many third-world countries. "Why are these babies in childcare?" he queried. "Our national infant-care policy is so weak," he explained. "All industrialized nations and 30 third-world countries provide parents with a paid leave from work to care for babies. Two-thirds of new parents in the United States who are entitled to take a leave of absence cannot afford to take it. Even when we have good programs for children, we as a society fail to finance them."

The student speaker, Rebecca Ford, who received her master's degree in Applied Psychology, completed the ceremonial speeches by telling everyone, "I leave you today by saying good luck in achieving everything that TC has motivated you to do. And, seeing you all dressed up for this occasion-and I mean this in the best way possible-you look really FAT!"

Earlier in her remarks, she explained that in the Latino community where she worked with young people, a full-bodied figure is the epitome of beauty and prosperity. Saying someone looks "fat" is the same as saying, "You look beautiful!"

The following day, Riverside Church was the backdrop for the doctoral hooding ceremony.

Before the graduates assembled for the hooding ceremony itself, Levine introduced Eugene M. Lang as this year's recipient of the Cleveland E. Dodge Medal for Distinguished Service to Education. Lang, who has offered educational incentives to students from elementary school through graduate school, was honored for the many opportunities he provides to students. The Dean, who read Lang's citation, said, "You are a man who makes dreams come true, and it all began when someone helped you make your dream to receive a college education come true. You never forgot the difference that that opportunity made in your life."

In his remarks to the graduates, Lang stressed the importance of the need for colleges and universities to provide "a total educational experience that will also inculcate an active and abiding sense of social responsibility."

"Random extracurricular community services are not enough," he added. "Token sacrifices on the altar of multiculturalism are not enough... Rather, colleges and universities should formally commit themselves to provide for that total educational experience with their regular curricula." Lang said he foresees that in doing so, universities could involve all constituencies in new programs that would implement these commitments.

Before the ceremony ended, almost 180 students were recognized by their Department Chairperson and presented with their doctoral hoods by the Dean. For several women, it was important to bring their daughters or granddaughters with them, as if to let them know how rewarding it can be to reach such a level of accomplishment. One young toddler, pacifier in his mouth, made it up the steps where he greeted his just-hooded father with a big hug.

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