SEAS the World! Class of 2018 Celebrates Class Day

May 21 2018 | By Jesse Adams | Photo credit: Eileen Barroso

Class Day keynote speaker Judy Joo ’97 encouraged students to pursue their passions fearlessly.

Columbia engineers have the tools and interdisciplinary vision to advance transformative technologies, declared distinguished speakers at the School’s May 14 Class Day celebration. Assembled with faculty, family, and friends on the university’s south lawn, graduates-in-waiting reflected on their time on campus and anticipated adventures yet to come, with remarks from peers, keynote speaker Judy Joo ’97, Dean Mary C. Boyce, and University President Lee C. Bollinger.

After the traditional procession to “Pomp and Circumstance” and a warm welcome from Dean Boyce, Class President Aakanxit Khullar looked back on 1351 days as undergraduates, finding a telling metaphor in their recently completed final exams.

“Solutions didn’t come from the blue book, [but] from the scratch sheet, everything you’ve scribbled, crossed out, re-written, and written on top of,” Khullar said. “The life that’s coming up isn’t going to be on a canvas in the form of a picture-perfect painting, but on the scratch sheet where we mess up, keep trying, and grow indefinitely.”

Next, global restaurateur and Iron Chef Joo took the stage, encouraging the class to pursue their passions fearlessly no matter where they might lead.

“What you have to realize is that everyone is scared. What is going to set you apart is how you deal with that fear, how you power through it,” said Joo, who studied industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia Engineering before starting out in finance. “I believe it is this willingness to be daring and take risks that has allowed me to shoot for the stars, and catch a few of them.”

Engineering has never been more important to society or as foundational to so many fields, Dean Boyce noted, and the rich multidisciplinary context at Columbia has uniquely prepared graduates to become change agents.

“Your education is about so much more than what you learned in the classroom and the lab,” Boyce said. “In all of the movements today—whether to confront climate change or address inequalities in the economy, the workplace, and in life, or confront fake news and ensure technological advances are brought to positive impact—your impact can begin now.”

She also presented the Edward and Carole Kim Award for Faculty Involvement to James T. Teherani, assistant professor of electrical engineering, and the Janette and Armen Avanessians Diversity Award to Julia Hirschberg, Percy K. and Vida L.W. Hudson Professor of Computer Science, before President Bollinger exhorted the graduating students to make maximal use of “the most unique education in the world.”

Valedictorian Michael Tong, a recipient of the Illig Prize, highlighted the “nuanced and constantly evolving” Columbia experience, and also shared the George Vincent Wendell Memorial Medal along with salutatorian Rajat Chandra. Graduate speakers Emily Moore PhD ’18 and Nikul Ukani PhD ’18, who each served five years on the Engineering Graduate Student Council, celebrated the students’ diversity, coming from 57 countries around the world. They received Graduate Student Life Awards from Senior Vice Dean Soulaymane Kachani, along with Sachchidanand Deo MS ’17.

Kachani also presented the Morton B. Friedman Memorial Prize for Excellence to Clément Canonne PhD ’18. Nominated by their students, Paul S. Blaer, lecturer in discipline in computer science, and Yuri Faenza, assistant professor of industrial engineering and operations research, received Distinguished Faculty Teaching Awards from Alex Ned BS ’87 MS ’90, president of the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association.

Ibrahim Odeh, lecturer in discipline in Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching during the Commencement Day ceremony. 

“To the SEAS Class of 2018—your family and friends, our faculty and staff, we are inspired by you and acknowledge your talent, creativity, achievements, and perseverance that have brought you here today,” Boyce said. “You are ready to SEAS the world!”


To the SEAS Class of 2018—your family and friends, our faculty and staff, we are inspired by you and acknowledge your talent, creativity, achievements, and perseverance that have brought you here today...You are ready to SEAS the world!

Dean Mary C. Boyce