May 19, 2016

This year’s SIPA graduation ceremony took place under sunny skies on Columbia University’s South Lawn on May 19.

Dean Merit E. Janow congratulated the Class of 2016, which comprises 733 students from 79 countries in seven academic programs.

“We are delighted to celebrate this achievement with you,” she said. “You will leave this campus with the skills, knowledge, drive, and global perspective… to improve lives, leverage public policy as a tool for progress, and advance the global public interest.”

View complete ceremony (VIDEO)

Noting that SIPA is celebrating its 70th anniversary, Janow exhorted the class to “carry forward the School’s mission as our graduates have done for seven decades.”

Janow welcomed as the program’s featured speaker Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a senior advisor at Lazard who is a former finance minister of Nigeria and a former managing director at the World Bank.

Okonjo-Iweala, who received one of SIPA’s Global Leadership Awards in 2010, was chosen as speaker with the input and support of SIPA students. She thanked the graduates for their endorsement.

In her primary remarks, entitled “Public Policy, Politics, and Political Economy,” Okonjo-Iweala discussed a series of major challenges facing the world today, including inequality and poverty, climate change, and terrorism.

“A lot is being done to address our challenges,” she told graduates. “That is the good news—the silver lining within the dark clouds that beset our world today.”

But she warned also that “good public policy alone cannot deliver the results we hope for,” noting that politics can too often “derail” good policies.

“Sorting out winners and losers [in a policy context], who is behind them, and how you navigate this field is vital,” said Okonjo-Iweala. “This is the key message I want to pass across to you today.”

She told a harrowing story about the kidnapping of her mother—an effort intended to blackmail Okonjo-Iweala into resigning her post as finance minister. She refused, and fortunately her mother escaped without harm. But it was an incredibly difficult decision, she said.

“What decision would you have made?” Okonjo-Iweala asked the assembled students and then the faculty.

Okonjo-Iweala concluded by quoting President John Adams: “Public business must always be done by somebody. If a wise man or woman declines, others will not do it. If an honest man or woman refuses it, others will not do it.

“Go out and be that wise and honest woman and man,” she said.

Roger Baumann IF ’84, MIA ’85, chair of the SIPA Alumni Association’s executive board, welcomed SIPA’s new graduates to the alumni community. He encouraged them to save the date for SIPA’s 70th anniversary on April 1, 2017, and to stay connected with classmates and fellow alumni.

SIPASA president Ajith Das Menon MPA ’16 spoke on behalf of graduating students: “We will make this world a better place,” he said.

The graduating students “have all come a long way,” Das said in concluding his remarks. “Before you congratulate your peers, take a moment to congratulate yourself.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2016!

View complete ceremony (VIDEO)

View the graduation timeline on Twitter at #SIPA2016