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‘Columbia taught me what it means to be alive’

The first of Columbia’s 2024 graduates walked across the stage of Arie Crown Theatre on Saturday, May 11. For many graduates, this was their first time celebrating a milestone like this since middle school due to COVID-19 pandemic. 

Speakers celebrated graduates’ resilience, with their friends and families looking on.

Zoey Veasey, who graduated with a bachelor’s of arts in music technology, delivered the student address.

She recounted what it was like to take classes on Zoom, to study from her childhood bedroom, with her mother, her favorite of her roommates. She said students made their first connections through Instagram messages. 

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Veasey said the soundtrack to those years came from the song “Being Alive” by Stephen Sondheim.

“Columbia taught me what it means to be alive,” she said.

Veasey started her speech noting the number of Gazans killed during Israel’s war with Hamas. She was cheered after reciting essayists and poet Bell Hooks’ words: “Our freedom is sweet. It will be sweeter when we are all free.”

Cesar Toscano, who graduated with a bachelor’s of arts in creative writing, recited a poem titled, “Dream Workshop.” Toscano won the 2024 Allen and Lynn Turner Commencement Poetry Competition for the honor.

The poem ended with the image of a mind drifting like clouds until they form objects like cotton candy.

It’s like coffee without caffeine,” he read from his poem. “It’s like, you know, whatever you want it to be.”

In the morning: Graduates received degrees in:

  • American Sign Language,
  • English and Creative Writing,
  • Science & Math, 
  • Dance,
  • Theatre,
  • Fashion Studies departments and 
  • Cultural Studies.

In the afternoon: Graduates received degrees in 

  • Business and Entrepreneurship, 
  • Communication, 
  • Audio Arts and Acoustics and
  • Photography departments.

This marks the last graduation weekend under President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, who will be stepping down from the presidential position on July 1. Kim gave remarks, but in a sign of the transition that will take place in the coming months, Senior Vice President of Business Affairs and CFO Jerry Tarrer gave the main address and handed students their diplomas.

Honorary degree recipient Nivine Megahed, president of National Louis University, also gave a speech at both ceremonies on Saturday.

Tarrer, who will be taking over as interim president on July 2, urged students to “engage in self-reflection, to cultivate peace from within and not have your happiness tied to the attainment of things outside of you.”

He also encouraged graduates to stay devoted to their values.

“As creatives moving forward in your lives seeking to go to the next level with the power of your thinking and creative spirit, know this: it is not just what one creates. It is who is doing the creating.”

What graduates are saying:

Valery Sanchez, who graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism, transferred to Columbia in 2022.

While Sanchez said she loved attending Columbia, she wished she made more connections with Columbia’s community and encouraged incoming students to

“Make connections, make friends, meet people and don’t be shy,” Sanchez said.

Shemeka Buckner, who graduated with a master’s degree in entrepreneurship for creatives, described graduation as “a relief.” 

She’s worked while being a full-time student but said Columbia felt like home. 

Buckner plans to continue running her small business, an idea she’s had since 2005, “Now since I have the knowledge from [Columbia], I’m going to take it to the next level.”

What is next: On Sunday, May 12, commencement will also be broken into two different ceremonies. The morning commencement will be for Cinema and Television Arts Department students, and the afternoon’s ceremony will include graduates from 

  • Art and Art History,
  • Design, 
  • Music and
  • Interactive Arts and Media departments.

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About the Contributors
Patience Hurston
Patience Hurston, Editor-in-Chief
phurston@columbiachronicle.com   Patience Hurston is a junior journalism major, minoring in Black World Studies. Hurston has reported on student loan forgiveness, changes with campus building policies and has written film reviews. They joined the Chronicle in June 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Peyton Reich
Peyton Reich, Photojournalist
preich@columbiachronicle.com   Peyton Reich is a junior photojournalism major, minoring in marketing. Reich has covered the Mexican Independence parade, Columbia's Black Student Union and theatre performances. Reich joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Flossmoor, Illinois
Kaelah Serrano
Kaelah Serrano, Photojournalist
kserrano@columbiachronicle.com   Kaelah Serrano is a junior photojournalism major. She has covered music festivals, campus art exhibitions and metro parades and protests. Serrano joined the Chronicle in January 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois