Congratulations, Graduates!

May 19 2014 | Columbia Engineering's Class Day ceremony was held on Monday, May 19, on Columbia’s Morningside campus.

A clear spring day set the perfect stage for Columbia Engineering’s Class Day ceremony on Monday, May 19. The ceremony took place at 5:00 p.m. at Columbia’s Morningside campus.

The School’s undergraduate Class of 2014 is comprised of nearly 430 students, representing 31 countries. Its graduate population this year totals more than 1,200 students, including those who completed their degrees in October 2013 and February 2014. A diverse group, Engineering’s graduate Class of 2014 represents 62 different countries across the globe.

SEAS graduate Ruby D. Robinson got the surprise of her life when her father, U.S. Army Captain Keith Robinson, showed up in person on Class Day. Captain Robinson has been deployed in Afghanistan for the past six months but was able to receive a last minute leave to attend his daughter’s graduation.

In her welcome remarks, Dean Mary C. Boyce congratulated the graduates and their families, and underscored the global significance of engineering today.

“This really is the age of engineering,” she said. “Every day we see how engineering solutions are meeting basic human needs—by increasing the productivity of agriculture; providing clean water, sanitation, mobility, and electricity in the developing regions of the world; or as we transform modern cities to smart cities; and as we strive to personalize medicine.”

The dean also mentioned the 150th anniversary of the School, which was officially launched in February with a string of celebratory events, including a special lighting of Low Library in Columbia blue.

“Our sesquicentennial celebration has given us pause to reflect on some of the amazing scholarly and technology achievements of students, alumni, and faculty of the School,” she added. “Through the decades, SEAS students, alums, and faculty have demonstrated their creativity through research, through invention, and through innovation.”

The Class Day keynote was delivered by alumnus Jon Oringer MS’99, founder and chief executive of Shutterstock, Inc. Oringer earned his master’s degree in computer science from the Engineering School, and in 2003, launched Shutterstock, a leading provider of stock imagery worldwide.

When Oringer stepped to the podium, he shared his own Columbia Engineering experience, calling himself “not exactly the model student” and admitting that he nearly flunked out of school, while devoting his nights to coding websites and his days sleeping. But what stuck with him the most from his Engineering days was the lifelong lesson of accepting failure in order to be a success.

“In reality nothing was ever as interesting to me as the thrill of seeing an idea transform into reality,” he said. “I’m betting you all are feeling that same way today …  The only way to build something of value is to embrace failure. I’m not talking about the possibility of failure or even the probability of failure. I’m talking about the absolute, 100 percent certainty that you will fail.”

Oringer discussed his career ups and downs and talked about his many startup ideas—some that were successful and others that were complete flops. He encouraged the Class of 2014 to take some risks.

“You are the most entrepreneurial generation in history,” he stressed. “Thanks to your Columbia education you are trained to see and solve problems differently and you know better than most that life’s annoyances are just amplified opportunities, especially if you’re willing to risk ceasing them.” 

University President Lee C. Bollinger and Interim Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez also delivered remarks during the Class Day program, as well as student speakers, Class President Daniel Edmund O’Leary III, Valedictorian Alden D. Quimby, and Graduate Speaker Andrew Kang.

Additionally, the program included a presentation of annual awards to outstanding students and faculty, including three major faculty awards that honor distinguished teaching, faculty involvement, and an outstanding junior faculty member; and two exemplary student awards, including class salutatorian and the Illig Medal, the highest honor awarded each year to an engineering undergraduate.

This year, the Alumni Association awarded Alfred V. Aho, Lawrence Gussman Professor of Computer Science, and Ibrahim S. Odeh, Lecturer in Discipline in the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, with the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award. The Edward and Carole Kim Award for Faculty Involvement went to Michael I. Hill, lecturer in chemical engineering design in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Established in 2000 by the parents of Brian Kim BS’01, the Kim Award was created to honor a faculty member who is not only an excellent teacher but also shows a special, personal commitment to students. Klaus S. Lackner, the Maurice Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics at the School, received the Janette and Armen Avanessians Diversity Award. Lackner is being recognized for his part in encouraging and supporting women and men from diverse backgrounds to become part of the academic community of engineering education.