In recognition of years of hard work and the successful completion of their degrees, Teachers College celebrated the more than 2,000 graduates from the Class of 2024 on May 14 and 15 in four ceremonies at Washington Heights’ United Palace Theater. In the storied theater — a key gathering point for people from all backgrounds during the Great Depression and World War II — the next generation of education, health and psychology scholars convened to embark on the next phase of their careers. Dressed in Columbia blue regalia, graduates gathered alongside family, friends and mentors for the joyous and long-awaited occasion.

President Bailey

President Bailey shared the winning submission in TC’s annual competition among graduating students to have a statement read at Columbia’s Commencement. In the words of Paritosh Joshi (M.A. ’24, Psychology in Education): “This year’s degree recipients are leaders and intellectual risk-takers. They are brave, determined, ambitious, and, above all, resilient. . . . to every challenge, they have been able to say ‘Thank you, next.’ And keep fighting.” (Photo: JD Closser)

President Bailey’s address to graduates reflected a theme present throughout the four ceremonies — that in cultivating a community that teaches and welcomes differing viewpoints and perspectives, TC continues to succeed in finding common ground needed to create change for the better.

"As you think of this community, recognize that we are not all of one belief,” he said. “There are many things in this world that separate us, and in the worst case, they divide us. I ask you to remember what unites us: a commitment to looking deeper. And looking ahead."

“Your TC education has taught you to question assumptions, rethink positions, take in new information,” Bailey shared. “I encourage you to continue to learn. Continue to question. Embrace mistakes, even failures, as opportunities to learn more, question further. And in doing so, work to make the world a better place.”

TC Board of Trustees Chair Leslie Morse Nelson affirmed the College’s enduring values: “Together you embody what Teachers College has recognized since its founding over 130 years ago. For individuals to flourish and reach their full potential we must support their wellbeing comprehensively, both in and out of school and from birth into old age,” she said. 

Here are more key takeaways from TC’s 2024 Convocation ceremonies.

Uplifting Messages from TC’s Medal for Distinguished Service Recipients

“As you graduates prepare to embrace the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities that await…you will need at least three things in order to stand on truth and integrity. These include: vision, courage and a voice,” said Dr. Thomas A. Parham, President of California State University, Dominguez Hills, in his address to Counseling & Clinical Psychology and Human Development graduates.

Dr- Thomas A- Parham

Dr. Thomas A. Parham, who received TC's Medal for Distinguished Service after a gracious introduction by Provost KerryAnn O'Meara and Derald Wing Sue, Professor of Psychology and Education and friend of Parham. (Photo: JD Closser)

The Class of 2024 must be bold enough to recognize their own opportunities to make a difference, reflected Parham, a distinguished psychologist and scholar who often found himself at the crossroads of defining moments that tested his purpose of advancing racial equity. “You graduates, who are now poised and positioned to cross the threshold of new degree recipients, will also be challenged to align your consciousness with your destiny and determine what your destiny will be,” said Parham. “For it is in that space where you will find your own truth, and challenge yourself to see if you have the courage to both speak it and live it.”

“You, too, have a choice about what path you’ll take — what kind of researcher, health care provider or educator you will be,” said Deborah W. Brooks, CEO and Co-Founder of The Michael J. Fox Foundation, who accepted the medal on behalf of actor and philanthropist Michael J. Fox, to graduates from the Biobehavioral Sciences, Health Studies & Applied Educational Psychology and International & Transcultural Studies departments. “I urge you to be fully present every day, expressing not only your skill, but your care and compassion for your fellow human beings.”

Deborah Brooks

Deborah W. Brooks accepted the Medal for Distinguished Service on behalf of Michael J. Fox in TC's second ceremony for graduates, after a gracious introduction by Provost KerryAnn O'Meara and Lori Quinn, Professor of Movement Science and Education (Photo: JD Closser)

Addressing many graduates who are working to combat health challenges, Brooks discussed the groundbreaking work of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has collaborated with the College on Parkinson’s disease research and support for patients. “We’re sober about how much work remains on the path to our goal…But we’ll take on anything we need to get there because we operate as patients would: with boldness, tenacity and persistence,” said Brooks.

Fox joined the celebration in a recorded message, a resounding call to action. “Graduates, I urge you to be challenged and inspired by what you do not know and embark on a lifelong quest of your own for knowledge and understanding,” the renowned actor said. “You can effect real change in patients’ and students’ lives, and serve as a partner in their own search for answers.”

“Our success depends on our ability to learn — together,” said Dr. Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, during her address to Math, Science & Technology and Organization & Leadership graduates. “And learning together depends on our being willing to speak truth — not just to power — but to each other.” 

Dr- Amy Edmondson

Dr. Amy Edmondson received the Medal for Distinguished Service during the third ceremony for graduates, after a being honored by Provost KerryAnn O'Meara and Patricia Hewlin, Professor of Social-Organizational Psychology. (Photo: JD Closser).

Edmondson — a leading management scholar who has written eight books — discussed her expertise on psychological safety and her new “obsession” with failure, which she sees as an inevitable and essential component of success: “Humility, curiosity, and empathy are building blocks of the psychological safety we need to thrive in a changing world. And to do that, we must aim high, team up, fail well, learn fast…and repeat.”

Addressing graduates who will become leading scholars and practitioners in their fields, Edmondson also invoked wisdom that pre-dates TC itself: “Nineteenth century novelist, Louisa May Alcott, wrote, ‘I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.’ We know the future will bring storms. So, let us learn to sail our ship — with truth and integrity — together.”

“When you are involved in education, you are part of a grand choreography – working together in united purpose,” said Jody Gottfried Arnhold (M.A. ’73), founder of the Dance Education Laboratory, in her address to graduates from the Arts & Humanities, Curriculum & Teaching, and Education Policy & Social Analysis departments. “Education depends on community. It thrives on collaboration. It resolves every conflict through creativity.”

Jody Arnhold Convocation 2024

Jody Gottfried Arnhold (M.A. ’73), received the Medal for Distinguished Service in the last convocation ceremony, after being honored by remarks from Provost KerryAnn O'Meara and Barbara Bashaw — Arnhold Professor of Practice in Dance Education, and Executive Director of the Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership. (Photo: JD Closser)

Arnhold — an ardent supporter of dance education and TC’s Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership — gave sage advice on achieving success through nurturing and pursuing a big idea, staying persistent in the face of rejection, and giving back to our communities. “Be a mentor, all of you have something to pass on to someone pursuing his or her own big idea. It’s often just as fulfilling as realizing yours,” said Arnhold.

Student Convocation Speakers Reflect

In her address to graduates, faculty and families, Maya Rajah (M.A. ’24, Psychology in Education) explored the universal desire to be seen and understood. An international student from Singapore, Rajah found herself feeling at home among her Teachers College classmates, learning that simple moments of kindness and empathy, despite differences, can be transformative. 

“Through the simple and sincere yearning to know — ‘what is it like to be you?’ — we start to see how much of the human experience actually unifies us,” Rajah told fellow graduates, friends and families.   

Maya Rajah

Maya Rajah (M.A. ’24, Psychology in Education) who addressed her fellow graduates during the first of TC's convocation celebrations. (Photo: JD Closser)

“Even amid the seemingly intractable conflicts of our time, we are equipped to serve as architects of belonging for ourselves and the people around us,” said Rajah, a scholar focused on the intersection of spirituality and mental health. “Choosing to see and honor the ‘human-ness’ in one another and within ourselves is an act of compassionate activism and a potent salve for our world of fractured belonging.” 

Isma Kafayat (M.A. ’24, Deaf/Hard of Hearing) — a first-generation graduate who is deaf — reflected on the transformative power of inclusive and diverse education and the inspiring community she found at TC while urging the audience to “commit ourselves to creating inclusive environments where every student, client, peer and colleague feels valued, supported, and empowered to pursue their dreams.”

Isma Kafayat

Isma Kafayat (M.A. ’24, Deaf/Hard of Hearing) (Photo: JD Closser)

“Let us remember that education is not merely a profession but a sacred calling,” said Kafayat, who will teach at a deaf school and pursue a doctorate in Deaf Education. “One that has the power to transform lives, uplift communities, and shape the course of history.”

In her address, Amber Barger (Ed.D. ’24, Adult Learning & Leadership) invited her peers to reflect on how their journeys at TC changed them as people, scholars, and educators. Exploring her own transformation from feeling disoriented on her first day to graduating as a “resilient, critical, and confident education leader,” Berger illustrated the impact of having a place to “dream so wildly and so boldly, and have the support system and resources to bring…dreams to life.”

Amber Barger

Amber Barger (Ed.D. ’24, Adult Learning & Leadership) (Photo: JD Closser)

“How will you rise to the occasion to embody the ideals we've nurtured here, being leaders who drive progress, being educators who inspire change, and being citizens who build bridges in our communities?” asked Berger, a scholar who proved the efficacy of artificial intelligence in professional coaching. “The world is eager for your insight and innovation, and the stage is yours to make a difference.”

In this year’s final Convocation ceremony, Jalnidh Kaur (Ph.D.  ’24, Economics & Education) likened her classmates to superheroes on the precipice of bright futures, though ones that will not be free of challenges. For Kaur, one such challenge was her previous concern that she couldn’t simultaneously earn a doctorate and become a mother. Today, she has done both. Inspired by the TC parents that came before her, Kaur was pregnant amid her studies and “kindness [that] transformed challenges into cherished memories.” 

Jalnidh Kaur Convocation 2024

Jalnidh Kaur  (Ph.D.  ’24, Economics & Education) (Photo: JD Closser)

“How we respond to these challenges is up to us…We are all superheroes,” said Kaur, who will join the faculty at the Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. “As we step out into the world, let us vow to carry with us the superpowers that we’ve acquired in the halls of TC — those of empathy, compassion, and humility.

Celebrating First Generation & Diversity Grads

One of the College’s most treasured traditions, the TC community also gathered for a special celebration that recognizes the achievements of more than 160 graduates who have succeeded in graduating as the first members of their families to earn a degree in higher education, a graduate degree or identify as scholars of diverse backgrounds. 

“Being the first in my family to obtain a graduate degree, I can feel the magnitude of the academic and professional milestone you celebrate today,” said Carmen N. Martínez-Roldán, Associate Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education, in welcoming remarks. “We need to celebrate this day because we can take for granted this collective achievement. Collective because while you were the ones staying up late to complete a project, this is also your parents’ achievement…it is also collective because you are joining your ancestors’ efforts to end oppressive cycles and to create new opportunities for social justice in your communities.” 

In addition to heartfelt musical performances, and remarks from TC leadership and faculty, the ceremony featured letters of gratitude written from graduates to their families on this momentous occasion. 

“Tonight, I see a room full of people who love you, and I imagine that there are many more who have helped you along the way,” President Bailey told graduates and their families. “There have been helpers in your lives who sparked something in you, empowered you to believe in yourself, inspired you to go for more than you previously imagined for yourself. And now, with your degrees in hand, I ask one thing of you, and that is, that you will play that same role for others.”

Following the reading of six letters, families and graduates participated in the annual “roll call” in which families stand alongside their graduates in recognition of this milestone.