Forty alumni, students, and faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences gathered in the library of Columbia University’s Italian Academy on June 1, 2017, to celebrate outstanding achievement at the Alumni Awards Dinner, where the GSAS Alumni Association presented both the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award and the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement for alumni who have made significant contributions to their fields and to society.
“This is the culminating event for the Graduate School every year, and is also my favorite event,” Dean Carlos J. Alonso told attendees. “It is the moment in which everything comes together for us, because everything we do during the year happens so that we may produce students such as the ones we honor here tonight. This is why we do what we do.”
The Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement was bestowed upon doctoral alumnus Professor Francisco Ayala (’64GSAS, Biological Sciences) and master’s alumna Ursula K. Le Guin (’52GSAS, French and Romance Philology). Professor Ayala, a National Medal of Science and Templeton Prize recipient who holds multiple appointments at the University of California, Irvine, has conducted groundbreaking research on population and evolutionary genetics, and his discoveries have led to new approaches to the prevention and treatment of diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
“I am an American because of Columbia University, and I have accomplished whatever I have accomplished because of Columbia University,” said Professor Ayala, who recounted leaving Franco-era Spain to pursue his graduate studies at Columbia.
Le Guin, described by The New York Times as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer,” was unable to attend the event, but wrote a letter expressing her gratitude.
“What I learned [at Columbia] of course served me all my life, though not directly as a scholar or teacher,” she wrote in the letter, which was read aloud at the dinner. “An education of that quality and caliber enlarges, enhances, and supports a mind in innumerable ways, many of them quite unpredictable.”
Andrea Batista Schlesinger (’13GSAS, International and World History), deputy director of US programs at the Open Society Foundations, was the master’s recipient of the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award. Before her graduate studies, Batista Schlesinger had advised New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, led the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, and authored the acclaimed book The Death of Why: The Decline of Questioning and the Future of Democracy.
“There are people who deliver education, and then there are masters of their fields, which is the experience I had here,” she said.
The doctoral recipient of the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award was Dr. Warren Bass (’02GSAS, History), a senior editor at The Wall Street Journal. After leaving Columbia, Dr. Bass served as part of the 9/11 Commission and helped to write and edit its landmark final report. He also served as an editor of the Washington Post, and as director of speechwriting and Middle East policy adviser to Ambassador Susan Rice.
“I’m not quite sure whether Columbia realized how far outside the academy I would stray, but I have always carried what I learned here with me,” he said in his acceptance remarks. “I have always found my degree to be unbelievably useful.”
Professor Francisco Ayala
Awards Committee chair Dr. Harriet Zuckerman (’65GSAS, Sociology) and Andrea Batista Schlesinger
Dr. Warren Bass