GS Celebrates the Class of 2023 at Class Day Ceremony
The School of General Studies (GS) celebrated the Class of 2023 at the GS Class Day Ceremony on Monday, May 15, 2023.
“As the 9th Dean of Columbia GS and the first alumna to be dean of this exceptional school, I am so proud that our school stands as a beacon for the future of higher education in our society. The creation of Columbia GS in 1947 represents a milestone in the evolution of undergraduate education at Ivy League universities,” said Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch ‘90GS in her opening remarks, welcoming guests, faculty, administrators, alumni, and Class of 2023 graduates while acknowledging the historical significance of this 75th anniversary year for GS.
Dean Rosen-Metsch extended special greetings to representatives of GS’ partner institutions; Amy Kalmanofsky, Dean of List College at the Jewish Theological Seminary; Richard Walker, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the City University of Hong Kong; Gail McElroy, Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin; and Emmanuel Kattan, Director of the Alliance Program; as well as Class Day speaker Keren Yarhi-Milo ‘03GS, Dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs; and Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger.
“Under President Lee Bollinger, whose 21-year tenure comes to a close this summer, Columbia stands at the very top rank of great research universities,” said Dean Rosen-Metsch. “His support for the students and the mission of the School of General Studies has been unwavering, and we are so fortunate to have had him as our leader. On this, his last graduation as our president, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Lee for seeing the opportunity a school like Columbia GS brings both to our university community and the world at large.”
“On this, his last graduation as our president, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Lee for seeing the opportunity a school like Columbia GS brings both to our university community and the world at large."
President Bollinger returned the compliments in his following remarks, sharing “the School of General Studies is incredibly fortunate to have Lisa Rosen-Metsch as the Dean. She is someone who, in her being, understands what makes this community of students and alumni so remarkable.” As he congratulated the Class of 2023, President Bollinger shared “you have been part of something that is unique in the world, really unique: the brilliant idea that talent, and the desire for education become manifest at different stages of life, that life experiences may enhance those qualities and provide even more fertile ground for education to take root and flourish. The idea that the contributions of people like yourselves can make a conventional academic community even better. These ideas are profound, and they are the defining elements of the School of General Studies.”
President Bollinger further noted the singularity of GS in bringing these principles to collegial life. “This brilliant idea is brilliant because it is unique,” he said. “It has not been integrated into the conventional structure of American higher education except at Columbia and the School of General Studies, and it even took us several decades to realize this. It has been my privilege and honor to see the student of General Studies, you, become one and the same with our undergraduate community of scholars.”
“It has been my privilege and honor to see the student of General Studies, you, become one and the same with our undergraduate community of scholars.”
The next distinguished guest to address the Class of 2023 was Class Day speaker Keren Yarhi-Milo ‘03GS, renowned political scientist and the Dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Dean Yarhi-Milo recalled her own GS graduation, 20 years before nearly to-the-date, recalling the complicated blend of excitement, nervousness, and uncertainty that accompanied the milestone. “Graduates, whatever emotions you’re experiencing,” she said, “I hope one is chief among them: an overwhelming sense of pride, because you have earned a degree from the Columbia University School of General Studies.”
Dean Yarhi-Milo went on to offer advice she wished she could have heard as a GS graduate, particularly reflecting on the many unexpected twists in her journey, from the whimsical childhood dream that blossomed into a concrete and realized goal of attending Columbia, to juggling her early career ventures in academia with motherhood, particularly when her eldest son faced health challenges. Chief among her nuggets of wisdom was this: “Dream big. And if you’re already dreaming big, dream bigger.”
She also emphasized that while Class Day marks the end of the Class of 2023’s official time at GS and Columbia, these communities will forever be a part of them, and always be there for them. “This is a school of entrepreneurs, brilliant thinkers, big dreamers, and curious minds. It’s a school with a soul, and graduates, that soul is you,” she said. “So go out, write your next chapter; do good, and make Columbia proud. We’ll be cheering you on every step of the way. And we’ll be here for you when you seek a source of solace, a haven for renewal, a home away from home. Owls, it’s time to spread your wings.”
“Dream big. And if you’re already dreaming big, dream bigger.”
Following Dean Yarhi-Milo’s remarks, Grayson Noyes ‘23GS, President of the Military Veterans of Columbia University (MilVets), took the stage to present President Bollinger with a GS Owl Award in honor of his two-decade plus commitment to GS and its students. “GS is a groundbreaking place to say the least, the most diverse college in the Ivy League. But this did not happen overnight. It required the innovative leadership of many, President Bollinger at the forefront,” said Noyes in his acknowledgement.
Noyes remained on stage to accept an award of his own from Dean Rosen-Metsch, the Alumni Key Award, given to a graduating senior for exceptional achievement and ongoing commitment to leadership and service to the School of General Studies community. Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, Noyes served in the United States Marine Corps and studied at the College of Marin before coming to GS. At Columbia, Noyes has been a dedicated leader within the student veteran community, including serving as President of MilVets for two years. Noyes will attend Columbia Law School this fall.
Dean Rosen-Metsch also presented the seventh annual Campbell Award to James Harvey Elliott II ‘23GS, an award given to a student leader who shows exceptional leadership and Columbia spirit as exemplified by Bill Campbell ’62CC, ’64TC. A returning citizen, Elliott studied at Delaware Technical Community College before coming to Columbia and is a passionate advocate for prison reform, particularly focusing on forging opportunities for incarcerated individuals to pursue higher education. In 2022, he was selected as a Truman Scholar by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, and post-graduation plans to prepare for the LSAT while spending time with his daughter as she starts kindergarten.
The Class of 2023 Salutatorian, Alexander Alvalade Ximenes ‘23GS, was then presented by Dean Rosen-Metsch. Ximenes, a longtime advocate for secular democracy and human rights, has taught English as a second language and GED classes for new immigrants and formerly-incarcerated New Yorkers while at Columbia. He graduated GS summa cum laude with a double major in political science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, and as a member of the GS Honor Society, the Pi Sigma Alpha Society, and Phi Beta Kappa. He plans to work with a real estate law firm in New York City post-graduation.
Following the presentation of the 2023 degree candidates by Dean of Students Marlyn Delva, Dean Rosen-Metch introduced the Class of 2023 Valedictorian, Zuzanna Bijoch ‘23GS. Born in Poland, Bijoch worked as a high-fashion model prior to coming to GS, featuring on the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle, and is also a published novelist. At Columbia, she won the Romine Prize in economics, and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in financial economics, and as a member of the GS Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa. She will join BDT&MSD Partners in New York City.
“We all have different life experiences, ambitions and careers and we should be proud of ourselves for following our own paths which have brought us here. In fact, this incredible variety of unique perspectives, ideas brought to campus from around the globe, made our time here even more special.”
In her remarks, Bijoch drew inspiration from a fellow New York City-based fashionista and writer: Carrie Bradshaw. “Columbia University: the most desirable bachelor…'s degree… in the city,” she began with a grin. “Striking good looks, impeccable taste, sterling reputation. A pedigree that would intimidate even the highest class of prospective students. And who the heck was I? A simple girl from Poland trying to navigate the city that never sleeps. Was I crazy to believe that I belonged in the classrooms of an Ivy League institution?”
In her inventive and wry format, Bijoch shared her GS story, at one point joking that as graduates, it was time for the Class of 2023 to ‘consciously uncouple’ from their college romance with Columbia. However, Bijoch highlighted in all seriousness the transformative and empowering nature of the GS community, in defiance of the imposter syndrome lightly but authentically referenced in her opening sentences. “We all have different life experiences, ambitions and careers and we should be proud of ourselves for following our own paths which have brought us here. In fact, this incredible variety of unique perspectives, ideas brought to campus from around the globe, made our time here even more special,” Bijoch said, continuing that GS is “one Columbia family, but we are also clear proof that there is not just one single recipe for life.” She closed by encouraging her fellow graduates to take a pause from the future-goal driven excellence that propels many Columbia students, and embrace the in-the-present joy of this moment: “Let's enjoy this! We made it! Step back and look at what we have all accomplished and celebrate these days with your family and friends who supported you throughout this journey.”
After thanking Bijoch for her remarks, Dean Rosen-Metch brought the Class Day Ceremony to a close. “Let me now say a final congratulations to the treasured graduates of the Class of 2023, your families, loved ones, and friends,” she shared. “I am honored to be your dean now and for years to come as you join our strong Columbia GS alumni community. You embody in a spectacular way the mission and vision of GS and Columbia. I hope you will stay involved with your Columbia family far into the future.”
Overview of the Class of 2023
- Number of 2023 Graduates: 765
- The average age is 27; our youngest graduate is 20 and our oldest is 61
- Graduates hail from 43 states and 64 countries
- 30% of graduates are new Americans or international students
- First-generation college graduates: 195
- Number of graduates who were community college Phi Theta Kappa members: 82
- GS Honor Society members graduating: 354
- Phi Beta Kappa inductees graduating: 58
- JTS/GS Joint Program graduates: 29
- Dual BA Program Between Columbia University and Sciences Po graduates: 145
- Joint Bachelor’s Degree Program between City University of Hong Kong and Columbia University: 25
- Dual BA Program between Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University graduates: 46
- Dual Degree Program between Tel Aviv University and Columbia University graduates: 3
- Number of graduates who received a Pell Grant: 213
- U.S. military veterans graduating: 108
- International military veterans graduating: 64