Part of Our Fabric: 2023 Donors and Scholars Luncheon
Columbia Law alumni and friends who fund scholarships meet the students who benefit from their generosity.
Pictured: Alumni speaker Moez M. Kaba ’05 at the 2023 Donors and Scholars Luncheon.
Nearly 125 years after Columbia Law School awarded its first official scholarships, dozens of alumni scholarship donors and student scholarship recipients met for lunch in Case Lounge on February 27 to celebrate the tradition of giving back and the connections made across generations.
The annual Donors and Scholars Luncheon enables the Law School community to express its gratitude to donors and also “to observe the strength of intergenerational ties within the Columbia alumni and student community,” Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, said at the event.
Scholarships transform the lives of students, and those students transform Columbia Law, Lester added. “You are all part of our fabric.”
The first official Columbia Law scholarships were given in 1899, on the occasion of the Law School moving from mid-Manhattan to Morningside Heights, Lester said. Of the 16 scholarships awarded at that time, half were named for financier J.P. Morgan and half for railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. Today, Columbia Law offers hundreds of scholarships—including 104 new, endowed scholarships that were made possible by the successful Campaign for Columbia Law, which concluded in October 2022 and raised $325 million.
Funding a scholarship means “believing that somebody who might not otherwise ... imagine themselves having a place at Columbia Law School actually deserves a place at Columbia Law School,” Dean Lester said. “That support is a way of saying, ‘Even if it might have felt out of your grasp, I'm going to make it in your grasp.’”
That was true for alumni speaker Moez M. Kaba ’05, a litigator and managing partner at law firm Hueston Hennigan. He recalled that, as the son of a taxi driver, he attended Columbia Law thanks to “enormously generous financial support.” Arriving at the school in the fall of 2002, in the “temporal shadow” of the 9/11 attacks, he wondered how he would be received as a first-generation, Pakistani American, Muslim student.
“I was embraced immediately,” he said.
“At Columbia, you learn not just what the law has been, but what the law could be,” Kaba continued. “And, if you’re really lucky, you’ll sit down with a professor, with a colleague, a classmate, and you’ll learn what the law should be.”
In 2022, Kaba established a named scholarship with his husband, Bjorn Lundberg ’05 LL.M. “For all of you who are students in the room, having a Columbia Law degree means that you will always belong in the room,” Kaba said. “The question for you is, what are you going to say when you get there? And I hope you take everything you have learned from Columbia Law and actually make a meaningful contribution.”
Student speaker Allyson Chavez CC ’19, LAW ’24 spoke about her mother, who immigrated to the United States from Ecuador and worked as a cleaner to further Chavez’s education. Chavez decided to become a lawyer after her mother became disabled from a work-related accident and a pro bono attorney failed to win her compensation. “My mother felt helpless and scared. . . . I felt useless and powerless,” Chavez said. “I was 12 when I learned that lawyers are gatekeepers of justice. I realized that if I really wanted to keep my immigrant, non-English-speaking community safe, I needed to become a lawyer. My mother’s sacrifices have fueled me ever since and led me to be here with you all today.”
Noting that she is a first-generation law student of color, Chavez said, “The beautiful thing is that I am not the exception. We are the rule.” Chavez thanked donors on behalf of the student recipients. “Your contributions assure that the future of the legal profession is one that is made up of lawyers with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, experiences,” she said. “Because only together can we make sure that the gates of justice are open to all.”
See more photos from the Donors and Scholars Luncheon: