Patrick Gaspard

While your achievements as a White house official, ambassador to South Africa, and political advisor are inspiring in their own right, it is your renowned diligence and humility that have set you apart as a leader and beloved colleague. The late South African poet and activist Keorapetse Kgositsile wrote, “The festive heart knows that / it is always possible to do more / of what you must do / and to do it better, always.” You, Patrick Gaspard, have such a heart. Born to dissident Haitian parents in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, you would come to New York City and find here your own powerful political voice. A passion for revealing corruption and the abuse of power made you an effective community organizer at a precocious age and a sought-after counselor to New York’s top elected officials, including, notably, Columbia’s revered faculty member Mayor David Dinkins. Armed with a deep knowledge of the city’s arcane bureaucracy and a sure grasp of New Yorkers’ daily challenges, you fought for the labor rights of three hundred thousand members of the Service Employees International Union, as its executive vice president and political director. Fellow Columbia College alumnus Barack Obama saw in you a person able to navigate the rough and tumble of politics with uncommon virtue and grace. He made you the national political director of his historic 2008 presidential campaign and then director of the White House Office of Political Affairs. Later, he would appoint you ambassador to South Africa. President Obama said simply in recommending you for this honor, “Thanks to Patrick’s service, America is a stronger and more respected nation.” Today, you continue to lead as president of the Open Society Foundations. It is a fitting place to find you: working to bring freedom, democracy, and justice to people around the world. What has driven you to do more of what must be done and to do it better, always? The answer, no doubt, can be found in your festive heart. For inspiring us, through your example, to fight injustice and strive for equality, Columbia is proud to welcome you back to campus and to present you with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.