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Celebrating 2019 Class Day

May 21 2019 | By Jesse Adams | Photo Credit: Eileen Barroso

From innovating new therapeutics to confronting climate change, Columbia Engineering graduates are uniquely equipped to help humanity flourish, said esteemed speakers at the School’s Class Day celebration on May 20. Gathered alongside faculty, family, and friends on the university’s south lawn, graduates-in-waiting looked back on their early mornings, late nights, and everything in between—while also envisioning expansive ambitions for the future—with remarks from student leaders, keynote speaker Shawn Edwards ’90 MS’95, Dean Mary C. Boyce, and University President Lee C. Bollinger.

After students entered to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” Class of 2019 President Izzet Kebudi reflected on student journeys to Morningside Heights from all around the world to come together as global problem solvers across many different fields.

“With these friendships we now have, we will empower each other when we need a helping hand,” Kebudi said. “We will bring about the greatest inventions of our century, and we will solve the biggest problems facing our diverse societies…Engineering is all about unity and collaboration and, on this new journey we embark on, we are together.”

In his keynote address, Shawn Edwards, Chief Technology Officer at Bloomberg, advised the class to make the most of their “inherently interdisciplinary” educations. Whether taking on surprising new roles or building diverse teams, he encouraged graduates to never get too comfortable in whatever they’re doing.

“Engineering is foundational—the ability to think critically, to be versed in creative problem-solving, to be able to break down problems into manageable sizes can be and should be applied to a wide range of fields,” said Edwards, who is also the vice chair of Columbia Engineering’s Board of Visitors and a member of the Advisory Council for the university’s Data Science Institute. “[But] engineering thinking alone is not sufficient. Columbia helped me connect my core analytic skills to a broader set of cultural, aesthetic, and ethical understandings. Effectively tying those together is one of the characteristics I believe sets Columbia engineers apart.”

For all of the pressing challenges of the twenty-first century, Dean Boyce told the students, “you give us great hope for a great future.”

“As newly minted Columbia engineers and applied scientists, it is a time of great opportunity for you to bring your talents, your mindsets, your creativity, ethics, and moral integrity to confront these issues and bring solutions,” she said. “You entered Columbia as among the world’s best and brightest of your generation. Your interactions with your peers and faculty, the curriculum, the research labs, the city, the world, have enabled you to amplify and leverage your considerable gifts and to expand your perspectives and horizons.”

On behalf of the student body, Boyce also presented the Edward and Carole Kim Award for Faculty Involvement to Ioaniss (John) Kymissis, professor of electrical engineering and founder and co-director of the Columbia Maker Space, and the Janette and Armen Avanessians Diversity Award to Elisa Konofagou, the Robert and Margaret Hariri Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Radiology. President Bollinger then congratulated the engineers on becoming “critical players in shaping the world of the future.”

In his speech, valedictorian Alexandre Lamy, recipient of the Illig Prize, recalled the fellowship of Columbia engineers. Barclay Morrison, professor of biomedical engineering and vice dean of undergraduate programs, honored this year’s salutatorian, Janice Juho Chung, and recipient of the George Vincent Wendell Memorial Medal, Andrew Countryman. Professor and University Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Soulaymane Kachani then presented the Morton B. Friedman Memorial Prize for Excellence to Yeh-Hsing Lao and the Graduate Student Life Award to Andrea Campi and Vera Smirnova. Afterwards, graduate speakers Megan Armstrong and Hrishikesh Jadhav urged the class of 2019 to contemplate bold new realities beyond achieving successful careers.

During Commencement Day on Wednesday, Tal Malkin, associate professor of computer science, will receive the Columbia University Presidential Teaching Award. This year, Morrison is being honored with the Society of Columbia Graduates Great Teacher Award.

“During your Columbia journey, you have learned from a committed faculty and amassed an incredible network of peers—your classmates and friends who inspired you, helped you, listened to you, taught you, learned from you, and shared many experiences with you,” Boyce said. “These have become your second family, your lifelong Columbia family.”


Columbia helped me connect my core analytic skills to a broader set of cultural, aesthetic, and ethical understandings. Effectively tying those together is one of the characteristics I believe sets Columbia engineers apart.

Shawn Edwards ’90 MS’95
Class Day Speaker