Binnaz Toprak Expresses Appreciation for 2012 Distinguished Alumni Medal

It was in 1962, fifty years ago, that I came to this city as an undergraduate student from Istanbul.

And it was back in Istanbul, on 9/11, while I was—by a traumatic coincidence—lecturing to a group of American students spending their semester abroad, that I learned about the Trade Center tragedy.

It was then that I knew I am a New Yorker. This is my city, I thought, and fanatics are trying to destroy its most unusual tolerant and liberal spirit.

And New York responded to it as I expected—by refusing to participate in the Islamophobia that was on the rise in the rest of America.

Although New York has changed quite a bit over these fifty years, its most characteristic trait remains: New Yorkers live on the fast track. No other city in the world—and I have seen many—spurts out this kind of dynamism and energy.

However, my ode to New York also has an implicitly critical tone to it. Living in New York can be tiresome and lonely. The city can grind the individual in its various gigantic gears. You need an anchor, a place where you belong, and where you can rest from the noise of the crowd.

The Graduate Center—which, back then, was on 42nd Street right across from the Public Library—was such an anchor for me. Here was an urban university—in the biggest metropolis of the world—that managed to give the feeling of a campus in a single building:

Cozy, friendly, caring; where students and faculty were close to each other—and learned from each other—where fun, friendship, and scholarship went hand in hand. I always felt privileged and lucky to have studied here.

It’s a great honor for me to receive this award from my own university, in my second hometown.

I sincerely thank President Kelly and the Grad Center community for one of the most exciting moments of my life.

Thank you.

Binnaz Toprak

Submitted on: JUL 10, 2012

Category: Alumni News, Commencements