Nearly 1,000 Gather to Celebrate Life of Late Dean Emeritus Peter J. Awn

On May 14, nearly 1,000 students, alumni, faculty, family, and friends gathered in Roone Arledge Auditorium for a memorial service celebrating the life of former Dean of the School of General Studies Peter J. Awn.

May 20, 2019

Awn was appointed dean of the School of General Studies in 1997. During his 20-year tenure, he dedicated himself to better integrating GS into the Columbia undergraduate community, and into making Columbia as inclusive as possible for non-traditional students. Awn worked to increase accessibility for veteran students, and founded a number of international dual B.A. and joint programs. He was also a member of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at Columbia, serving as a professor of Islamic and comparative religion for more than 35 years. 

"Not only has GS been successfully integrated into the greatness of Columbia, but the greatness of Columbia has been enhanced by General Studies," said University President Lee C. Bollinger during his speech at the service. 

During the memorial, attendees, including her Royal Highness Princess Firyal of Jordan and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, remembered the life and achievements through a series of speeches, musical performances, photographs, and by wearing colorful socks—something Awn was known for.

Not only has GS been successfully integrated into the greatness of Columbia, but the greatness of Columbia has been enhanced by General Studies.

University President Lee C. Bollinger

Having been kept apart throughout his career, Awn's family and friends only met at the side of his hospital bed. However, they quickly realized that Awn was very much the same in both spheres: always looking to help others. Dean Awn's niece, Jackie Monteleone, reaffirmed this. 

"Like many of you, I considered Peter to be one of my favorite teachers," Monteleone said. "He was the same person with the same qualities when he was with his Columbia family that he was with our family."

Dean Awn passed away earlier this year on February 17, after sustaining injuries from a car crash while walking home from campus. His presence is already greatly missed not only amongst the GS community, but amongst the Columbia University community as a whole. 

"Peter simply transformed the place. [He] celebrated diverse students, making it his priority. Peter's wisdom, sound judgment, deep sense of humor, and deep commitment to serving students profoundly shaped Columbia for the better. We miss him already," said Provost John H. Coatsworth. 

Dean Rosen-Metsch, the current dean of the School of General Studies, recounted how when she first walked into Awn's office, it was completely empty.

"He said that he wanted to make sure that the new dean would have space for their own vision, and that he would just spend the next year lurking in the bushes outside of Lewisohn Hall, if anyone needed him," Rosen-Metsch said.

She went on to relate how Awn had continued attending student events, such as the GS Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremonies, even after stepping down as dean.

"Much is written, spoken and taught about leadership these days," said Larry Lawrence '69GS, '71BUS, one of the evening's featured speakers. "But Peter exemplified a particular kind of leadership which is not easily taught—a tradition of leadership as service, not in pursuit of individual or even institutional glory, but in the passionate and energetic pursuit of creating the best of possible experiences for others."

Ceremony Recording