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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Avi Adler reflects on 4-years at Columbia University and his award winning finish

When Columbia University in New York canceled its commencement ceremony following weeks of anti-Israel protests and campus turmoil, it disrupted the ability of students and their families to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work and the prospect of a bright future. One of those students was St. Louisan Avi Adler.

Avi Adler

Ceremony or no ceremony, the St. Louis Jewish community can still shout “mazel tov” from the rooftops because Adler not only graduated but was awarded two prestigious honors.

Avi Adler’s journey to Columbia

Adler, 22, grew up in University City and attended Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School before graduating from Yeshivat Kadimah.

“As I began to apply to college, I knew I had an interest in the sciences. However, I wanted to study the humanities and the traditions of Western history and culture,” said Adler. “This led me to Columbia, and in addition to being in Manhattan, made it the perfect school for me.”

Like his classmates who graduated from high school and started college during the COVID-19 pandemic, Adler’s college experience was marked by unprecedented challenges and adaptations.

“My college experience was never quite ‘typical’; Zoom, masks, graduate student strikes, restrictions, etc., just became the norm,” said Adler. “Nonetheless, life on campus was highly enjoyable, classes rigorous and my friends, peers and neighbors warm and inviting.”

The norm that was Adler’s first three years of college ended on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel.

“Instantly, the campus climate became tense, uncomfortable, but manageable. I had to deal with weekly protests, unsettling glares, canceled classes and closed gates. The tension built, and I would be the target of antisemitic remarks and jeers about once a week,” recalled Adler.

When the anti-Israel encampments at Columbia began, the campus effectively shut down. There was nonstop chanting in front of the main library, a protestor takeover of university buildings, and, as Adler describes it, “a dense, unsettling fog hung over the campus.”

“It pervaded my classrooms, library, dorm and most of the places I had come to know as home,” he said.

When the university announced on May 6 that it was canceling its main graduation ceremony after weeks of protests, few Jewish students like Adler were taken aback.

“We were not surprised in the least. I knew this was coming for some time. It was far too big a spectacle and far too big a target to go unsacrificed,” said Adler. “When I received official notice commencement was canceled, I was deeply disappointed. I would now miss out on the tradition of gathering on Columbia’s Morningside campus for commencement.”

However, one saving grace for Adler came in an email stating that despite the cancellation of the main ceremony, Columbia intended to preserve Class Day, the graduation ceremony for Adler’s program within Columbia University.

Sister, Bella and Avi Adler.

Graduating with honors

On Tuesday, May 14, Adler and his family gathered for Class Day, where Adler was called up on stage not once, but twice, to receive two prestigious awards. Columbia College presents four awards each year: valedictorian, salutatorian and two named awards, one of which is the David B. Truman Alumni Award, given to the Columbia student who has made the most distinguished contribution to the academic affairs of the college.

That Columbia student was Adler.

“To be called up on stage in front of my class in recognition of my time at Columbia is a moment that built with the greatest of anticipations and one that will live with even larger admiration,” said Adler.

In addition, he was also awarded the Bridges and Sturtevant Prize in the biological sciences. This honor is the highest given by the biology department and awards graduating seniors whose experimental or computational research is deemed to have been both highly original and fruitful.

“I found out about the Bridges prize via an email blast to the entire biology department. I was not paying attention to my email at that moment and was incredibly confused why I received a dozen texts and five phone calls at once,” said Adler. “My confusion turned to elation as a friend congratulated me on the Bridges prize.”

Move forward

Through the bookended chaos that was the start and finish of his college experience, Adler says he’s both proud and thankful for his time at Columbia.

“I see the past few weeks as a rotten cherry on top of an otherwise great cake, a metaphor offered to me by my Bubbie. In the coming months and years, I will strive to remember the cake, not the cherry,” said Adler, who will remain in New York and work in the Barnhart Lab at Columbia as he begins applying to PhD programs in the biological sciences.




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About the Contributor
Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer
Jordan worked at KSDK from 1995 to 2020. Jordan is a three-time Emmy award winner who produced every kind of show from news to specials during his tenure, creating Show Me St. Louis, The Cardinal Nation Show. He started ksdk.com in 2001 and won three Edward R. Murrow Awards for journalistic and website excellence in 2010, 2014 and 2020. Jordan has been married for 25 years and is the father of two college students. He is an avid biker, snowboarder, and beer lover. He created the blog drink314.com, focusing on the St. Louis beer community in 2015. Jordan has an incredible and vast knowledge of useless information and is the grandson of a Cleveland bootlegger.