Tag: alumni

Photo Courtesy of ABC7 NY

As reported yesterday, Shelia Abdus-Salaam, the first African-American associate judge in New York, was found dead in the Hudson River. Abdus-Salaam was a graduate of Columbia, receiving her Bachelors from Barnard College in 1974 and JD from Columbia Law School in 1977.

Prior to joining the bench in New York, she worked as an attorney for Brooklyn Legal Services.

Current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who appointed Abdus-Salaam to the bench following a vacancy in 2013 posted the following about her passing.

For more information on her life, the New York Times has posted a thorough article on her life and this tragic event here.

Tonight, Columbia alumnus Judge Neil Gorsuch was nominated for the Supreme Court. During his time at Columbia, he wrote for The Spectator and created The Federalist, Columbia’s premiere satirical newspaper. He was graduated from Columbia in 1988 and currently serves on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado.

Photo by Em Watson, American Theater

The Lion met with Rachel Chavkin, a Columbia School of the Arts graduate, to discuss her direction of a new musical on Broadway: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. The show is based on a 70-page snipped of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and includes both period and modern stylistic setting.

The show itself is completely immersive as the cast performs all around you, or even right next to you! And in parts of the show, members of the audience are asked to help with everything from passing letters to providing background sounds for the musical numbers. In addition, the seating is unlike anything else on Broadway with the Imperial theater redesigned to feel like a Russian club. Several seats have been removed to make way for tables and lamps to create this atmosphere. Seats range from being in the standard orchestra and rear mezzanine sections of the theater to sitting right on the stage.

The show has an open run and is performed 8 times per week at the Imperial Theatre. The show offers both a mobile lottery and rush tickets for only $39, a great deal for people interested in seeing the show for less. This is one of the most immersive shows I have ever seen and it’s definitely something to check out! When we sat down with Rachel, we talked about her experience in theater and her journey in helping to develop productions such as The Great Comet.Continue Reading..

Meet Katie Meili. Meili, a Columbia College alumna and competitive swimmer hails from Colleyville, Texas. This past summer, Meili won a gold medal for swimming the preliminary heats of the 4 x 100 relay and a bronze medal in the 100 meter breast stroke at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. We sat down with her to learn more about her background in swimming and how her time at Columbia has influenced her athletic career.

How did you originally get involved with swimming?

I started competitive swimming when I was 8. My older sister, Maureen, and I both did gymnastics but she had a bad ankle injury when she was 13 and I was 8. Her doctor suggested swimming for physical therapy and since I wanted to do everything my sister did, my mom signed us both up for the summer league swim team. The rest is history!
Did your time at Columbia impact how you swim?
Absolutely! I always say that I would not be the swimmer I am if I had not attended Columbia. Columbia made me into the person I am and I so loved and appreciated my time there. Swimming at Columbia set me on the path I needed to be on to get to where I am now. I met all the people I needed to meet, especially my coaches at Columbia – Diana Caskey and Michael Sabala, and I interacted with the sport the way I needed to – with joy and appreciation. My time at Columbia didn’t just impact the way I swim now, it created everything!
How do you clear your mind/focus before you compete in a race?
Before I race, I like my mind to be completely clear. When I step up on the blocks, I tell myself that all the work has been done and that my body knows how to accomplish the task at hand. I get to turn my brain off and race completely free. It’s an amazing feeling!
What were you most excited about getting ready for Rio? What was life in the Olympic Village and the Games Like?
I was most excited for small things that hold a big meaning to me personally. Wearing my Ralph Lauren opening ceremonies outfit (something I have wanted to have since I was a young girl); getting my American flag cap with my name on it; swimming in a pool with the Olympic Rings hanging above it. Those are the things that make you take a step back and think, “Wow, I actually made it here”, and those small moments are my favorite.
Life in the Olympic Village was amazing! I loved seeing and meeting people from all over the world, and getting to see a glimpse of their cultures and customs. To me, the Olympics are about the World coming together in a peaceful way to celebrate our similarities and our differences as human beings. It’s a beautiful event that holds significance in every culture in the World. It’s unique and important and I could feel that power everywhere.
How did you react/feel upon realizing you medaled in two different events?
I was so full of joy! I always dreamed of going to the Olympics and winning a medal but I never actually thought it would happen. It’s impossible to put in words what it feels like to have a dream of that magnitude come true. I smile every time I hold my medals in my hands. They mean so much to me… hard work and sacrifice, but also all the people that helped me along the way (and there are SO many). Those medals belong to my family, friends, teammates, coaches, and supporters just as much as they belong to me.
Do you think you will be swimming in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics? 
I have not made a final decision on Tokyo yet. Right now, I’m just enjoying the experience from Rio!
What was the greatest challenge you faced as a swimmer?
When you’re trying to be the best in the World at something by the smallest of margins, you have to have an extreme sense on non-complacency. Every day in practice, you have to want to be better, do more, try harder, etc. Even when you do something great, you have to have the attitude that it’s not quite good enough and that you still need to improve. That kind of attitude and approach is necessary for any type of success, but too much of it can get exhausting and can be detrimental. For me, finding the right balance to use that attitude to my advantage was the greatest challenge I faced swimming at this level.
What advice would you give to current student athletes?
Stay focused and if you have a dream or a goal, even if it seems out of reach, don’t be afraid to chase it. Ask for help along the way!
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Interested in interviewing students and alumni about how their time at Columbia has shaped their experiences and outlook? Join The Lion Profiles team by sending an email to team@columbialion.com.

Meet Brandon Victor Dixon. Dixon, a Columbia College Class of 2007 graduate, is a two-time Tony Award Nominee. During his career, he has performed in various Broadway shows (including Columbia’s very own Varsity Show). Starting in August 2016, Dixon will assume the role of Aaron Burr in Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway show, Hamilton: An American Musical. As he prepares for his role, I sat down with him to talk about his career in the performing arts and his insights on pursuing your dreams and excelling in your career.

What did you study while at Columbia, and do you have any favorite memories from your time there? 

I was an Economics major initially. I left after my first semester senior year, but when I came back and I finished, I was a theater major. My favorite memories from school were of working on the Varsity Show V107 and V108.

What first sparked your interest in theater, and how did you explore that field as a student? Was it mostly through the Varsity Show?

I came to Columbia because I knew what I wanted to do, and I just wanted to go to school in New York so that I could audition and build my career. That’s why I came to Columbia, and I appreciated that Columbia had a campus, and a vibrant curriculum that I could delve into and expand my information base in general. But no, I didn’t go to Columbia to train, or help my career, though a lot of the work I did and the classes I took were of great help and education to me in the theater department at large. I came to Columbia so that I could be in New York.

What were some of the shows you’ve performed in prior to Shuffle Along, and now, Hamilton starting next month?

The Lion King, The Color Purple, Rent, Far from Heaven, The Scottsboro Boys.

With your recent casting as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, how are you preparing for the role? Are you nervous about anything about it?

Nope. It will be a good time. I’m working on a lot of the movement. The movement style is a little different for me so I’m focusing on the movement, but I’m approaching it like anything else. I’m doing my research. I’m learning the material. It’ll be interesting replacing someone in such a big and involved show. I’m going to be learning it even as I’m performing it.

What’s the most surprising or interesting that’s happened to you while performing and go like backstage?

While performing I fell in the orchestra pit one time. That’s one of the more interesting things. I can’t really think of anything that stands out about anything that’s happened backstage but definitely falling in the orchestra pit, that was an interesting one.

 What has been your favorite role to perform so far and why?

Eubie Blake in Shuffle Along. I’ve learned more about myself as a human being in this show and about all of us as human beings in the show. Also, it’s a culmination of everything that has come before it, so you know, it embodies all of the things that you see.

What general advice would you give to students interested in pursuing their career in theater and the performing arts?

The thing I’d say to anybody interested in pursuing anything: there are no rules, your power and ability are limitless, and keep going.

With Hamilton, did you know that you wanted to play Burr, or did they offer that role to you?

I didn’t want to be Burr … I wasn’t interested in doing the show because it’d been done. I don’t tend to replace. My goal is almost always to create something new but this is a unique show, and a unique opportunity and it came on at kind of the right time. The more they talked to me about it, and the more I thought about it, the more excited I did get about the process of joining the show. I am happy; it’s going to be a new experience.

What keeps you excited about being in theater? Is it that the audience has you perform? Is it just the idea of taking on the role of a new character? What motivates you or drives you?

Creating. Creation is what drives me. The reason we are here on this planet is to connect more deeply with ourselves and with each other, and art, and performance, and theater I think is a tool that I’ve come here with to make use of. Creating stories in this way, particularly … In art in general, particularly in live theater, it is a highly communicative, community experience. We get to share something special in that moment of time and that room with one another … And we leave transformed, and that is the important to evolve, to transform, to emote, and to connect with one another.

Since a lot of the people who will be reading this are incoming students, like this is their first time in New York, some have never seen a Broadway show. Do you have any advice for them like for shows they should, or general ideas and tips about what the magic behind Broadway is, in a sense?

The magic behind Broadway is that the people on stage create something from nothing. It’s creating magic, and it helps inspire you to create something from what you have. New York is a cultural bastion unlike any other. So see everything you can, do everything you can. Big, small, do it all.

 As you prepare for Hamilton, what’s your favorite song so far, whether it’s one you’ll be singing, or one some other character will be singing?

My favorite track in Hamilton is Guns and Ships but my favorite song to sing in that obviously is Wait for It.

Can I ask why Wait for It is going to be your favorite one to sing?

I think because I’m exploring the detail of the song but the thing that it sticks out for me is the chorus. Not a love, nor death, nor life, you know. It says,

Life doesn’t discriminate

between the sinners and the saints

it takes and it takes and it takes

and we keep loving anyway

we laugh and we cry and we break and we make our mistakes

And if there’s a reason I’m still alive

While everyone who loves me has died

and I’m willing to wait for it.

So minus the coda at the end, it’s that element of that’s true. Life is that, as is love, as is death, and they are all phases of the same thing, and they do not discriminate according to who you are.

Whether you are good or bad, it’s going to take something but you have to keep giving to it. It’s kind of a mini-encapsulated message about the circle of life, and what living is about. It’s a song with no resolution. He doesn’t figure anything out by the e`d of it. He starts affirming something, and then he starts questioning it, but then he finds himself left with a question in the end of it. It’s interesting piece but it’s one that’s resonated with me.

Brandon will begin performances as Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical starting in August 2016. For tickets to the show’s New York production, visit the show’s Broadway site.

Interested in interviewing students and alumni about how their time at Columbia has shaped their experiences and outlook? Join The Lion Profiles team by sending an email to team@columbialion.com.