Dreams from My Mater

by Thomas Vinciguerra ’85CC, ’86JRN, ’90GSAS
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Now, in his return to Morningside Heights, sniping broke out again, this time of the verbal variety. Some Columbia students took the news of Obama’s impending Barnard address as a snub. (It didn’t help that the College Class of 2011 had tried unsuccessfully to persuade the president to speak at Class Day the year before.) The Spectator and Bwog were flooded with responses of disbelief and anger. Curiously, though Barnard did not solicit the speech, it took the brunt of the attack. “Academically inferior” and “feminazis” were among the milder epithets.

Barnard president Debora Spar dismissed the invective as “nineteen-year-olds writing at four thirty in the morning.” And by the time Obama spoke, the conflict had evaporated amid the joy of graduation. The president got plenty of laughs when he referred to the “sibling rivalry” of the occasion — perhaps a nod, in part, to his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng ’93BC.

“I can tell you that he has affection and respect for Columbia and the College,” said Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski ’85CC, Obama’s Harvard Law School classmate and Harvard Law Review colleague. Indeed, though Obama couldn’t make his twenty-fifth reunion, which coincided with the 2008 presidential campaign, the then senator from Illinois gave Columbia a thousand dollars and sent a warm note to his class.

Would he attend his thirtieth next year? Obama’s classmate Jonathan Zimmerman, director of the History of Education Program at New York University, who remembers the president from a sociology class taught by Andrew Walder, hopes so. “I’ve never been to a reunion,” he said. “But if that guy says he’s going, I’m going!” More likely, the Columbia College Alumni Association will at some point give Obama its highest honor, the Alexander Hamilton Medal: the presidency aside, the CCAA has presented the Hamilton to every other College graduate who has won the Nobel Prize.

“I think that after things settle down, he would be open to it,” said Gerald Sherwin ’55CC, co-chair of the CCAA’s Alumni Recognition Committee. But then, Sherwin asked, what do you give the man who has everything? “An honorary degree? He already has a Columbia degree. I’m sure he passed the swimming test.”

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