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Columbia to honor local leaders in higher education at Kwang-Wu Kim’s last commencement as president

Kaelah Serrano
Columbia students, families, and guests enjoy Manifest activities at 623 S. Wabash Ave. on Friday, May 10, 2024. Columbia students excitingly celebrate pre-commencement festivities while preparing for commencement this upcoming weekend.

Columbia will hold four commencement ceremonies over the weekend at the Arie Crown Theater. 

This is the second year in a row that Columbia has moved its graduation ceremonies outside of the South Loop near campus to the sprawling complex at McCormick Place Convention Center.

Ceremonies will be held at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday as part of graduation weekend – kicked off by Manifest on Friday, May 10. Graduates will attend the ceremony for their department. For many students who missed their high school graduation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this will be their first commencement celebration since middle school.

Each ceremony will feature speeches from administrators and selected student speakers.

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Creative writing major Cesar Toscano will read a poem he wrote at both of the ceremonies on Saturday. He submitted three poems to be considered and won with his poem “Dream Workshop.” 

Toscano said that he is nervous, but excited to read the poem publicly. “It’s an honor. I’ve always wanted to do it since I was a freshman.”

Film and television major Hannah Brumfield is one of the students chosen to give a speech at commencement. She will speak at the ceremony for the Cinema and Television Arts Department at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

“I love public speaking and I feel like I have connected with a lot of people in my graduating class, so I felt like it would be cool to speak to them as a representative of our class,” she said.

Brumfield said that this year’s commencement is especially important because many of the graduates had their in-person high school graduation ceremony canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Brumfield said that overcoming challenges like COVID-19 and the part-time faculty strike in the fall “taught us to be more resilient as artists.”

Chair of the Board of Trustees John M. Holmes will not attend commencement due to a work conflict. He instead recorded a speech for graduates and their families.

In addition to speeches from students and administrators, there will be speeches from honorary degree recipients at the ceremonies.

Columbia is awarding honorary degrees to two local university presidents, Nivine Megahed of National Louis University and Raymond Crossman of Adler University.

The educators are a departure from Columbia’s usual degree recipients. Many past commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients were community leaders, writers, artists or musicians.

In 2016, Columbia awarded honorary degrees to five people including Carlos Tortolero, founder of the National Museum of Mexican Art, Pulitzer prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith and actress Jane Lynch.

Other honorary degree recipients from previous years include author Ray Bradbury, jazz musician Herbie Hancock and poet Maya Angelou.

Crossman is an advocate for LGBTQ+ representation in higher education and was the first university president to publicly disclose their HIV status. He will be speaking at the ceremony at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

Crossman became the president of Adler University in 2003, and is one of the longest serving university presidents in the country. This was his last year as president. 

Megahed is an educational entrepreneur whose work focuses on making quality education more accessible. She will be speaking at the ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday. She became president of NLU in 2010, and her administration was previously criticized for its academic restructuring in response to revenue shortfalls.

In 2012, 63 full-time faculty members, including 16 tenured faculty, were terminated and four departments in the College of Arts and Sciences were eliminated at NLU. An investigating committee from the American Association of University Professors said that the university disregarded its own policy by terminating the tenured faculty members.

This is Kim’s last commencement ceremony at Columbia. When he departs in July, Senior Vice President of Business Affairs and CFO Jerry Tarrer will take over as interim president.

Copy edited by Lily Thomas.

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About the Contributors
Sydney Richardson
Sydney Richardson, Reporter
srichardson@columbiachronicle.com   Sydney Richardson is a sophomore journalism major, concentrating in broadcasting for radio. She is minoring in voiceover. Richardson has reported on campus and metro events, as well as changes to Columbia's Student Life and Residence Life departments of the college. She joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Woodridge, 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