Commencement 2010

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Commencement 2010 / Photo: Eileen BarrosoOn May 18, President Lee C. Bollinger stood before a sea of rain-battered umbrellas and promised Columbia’s 256th graduating class that, owing to the weather, his remarks would be “abridged.” It was one of several crowd-pleasing lines.

“The real world needs to embrace more of the intellectual character we try to practice here,” Bollinger told the 12,000 graduates and some 30,000 guests from the steps of Low Library. The president summoned Columbians John Jay and Alexander Hamilton as models of the “coherent, reasoned advocacy” with which he urged the 2010 graduates to confront three areas of discourse: the “denial of expertise,” represented by those who would “reject the consensus of the scientific community about humaninduced climate change”; the “hardening of beliefs and intolerance, as witnessed in the unwillingness of many in public discourse to at least entertain the possibility that others may have better ideas, which inexorably leads to intimations of violence”; and “the corrosive attitude now prevalent in public debate that the less said the better, because expression of your viewpoint can only get you into trouble.”

The day before, under sunnier skies, NAACP president Benjamin Jealous ’94CC also spoke of the wages of intolerance in his Class Day speech. “These are days of Dickensian contradiction,” he said, contrasting the historic rise of alumni like President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder with the expressions of racism seen on signs at Tea Party rallies. “Now is the time for you to declare that we will move this country ever forward and never backward,” Jealous exhorted the Class of 2010. “Now is the time for all of us who believe in the greatness of this country to stand up.”

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