Columbia Centennial Celebration Speech by Antonin Baudry

November 18, 2013 | By French Culture

On November 7th, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy hosted the final event in the celebration of the 100-year anniversary of Columbia University’s Maison Française.

Over a hundred guests attended the Centennial celebration hosted by Antonin Baudry, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the U.S., Paul LeClerc, Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Maison Française, and Shanny Peer, Director of the Maison Française.

During this reception, Ambassador François Delattre, French Ambassador to the U.S, was honored with the first Columbia University Maison Française Centennial Medal.

Below, opening remarks from Antonin Baudry, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy.

Dear Ambassador,
Dear Mr. Chairman, Dear Paul,
Dear Shanny,
Dear members of the Maison Française Advisory Board,
Dear John Young,
Dear friends,

Tonight, we are all part of a long history. A century ago in 1913, Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler, who had strong ties with France and Europe, established the first French academic and cultural center at an American university: the Columbia Maison française. Since that time, the Maison has become a bastion of rich collaborations between French and American universities, but also between the French-speaking world and the United States.

Tonight we celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Maison française and of French-American cultural and academic relations. And we take a moment to reflect on the breath of culture and knowledge that the Maison has nutured.

Indeed, the Maison has attracted countless luminaries, French and Francophone philosophers, artists, researchers and political figures. Each has had a strong impact on those who came to listen to them, myself included. It is energizing and uplifting to know that the Maison will continue to host screenings, lectures and conferences for years to come. And that it will carry on inspiring students to learn French and to begin research on French culture.

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy is honoured to sponsor the current exhibition celebrating the centennial. The show presents a wonderful collection of unpublished photos of Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Barrault, among others invaluable documents like audio clips of André Malraux, Marcel Marceau and Eugène Ionesco, and audiovisual archives and program materials. Other elements can be found, like medals, letters and books, some of them as old as the French Revolution.

This show exemplifies the partnership between the Maison française and the Cultural Services. Indeed the French Embassy Centre d’excellence, headed by Elisabeth Ladenson, director of the French Department, launched the project called “Maison française Centennial Digital Archive”. Thank you, Elisabeth, for this and for heading the Columbia French Department, which is today one of the best in the world ! I would also like to mention our dear friend Phil Watts’ role as Chair of the French Department. He was so instrumental in transforming it into what it is today. We are all saddened not to be able to share this moment with him. Dear Sophie, thank you for being here tonight.

The collaboration between the Maison française and the French Embassy is strong. In fact, I think it has never been stronger, thanks to you, dear Paul and dear Shanny.

Dear Paul, you have brought your leadership and your intellectual curiosity to the Maison to enable students to best connect with the world and, of course, with France. Dear Shanny, who else than such an energetic, warm and available partner as you could have made the Maison what it is today: not only a leading center for French –American cultural exchange, but a landmark for interdisciplinary collaboration between America and the French-speaking world.

We have had the great pleasure to work together to invite numerous speakers such as filmmaker and author Claude Lanzmann, former National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman, philosopher Jacques Rancière, economist Thomas Piketty, photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the 93-year-old French Resistance leader Stéphane Hessel, and many more.

These activities are only the tip of the iceberg but show the vital role the Maison française plays, as a catalyst of French-American initiatives on Columbia’s campus. It is exemplary in fostering exchange across disciplines and schools at Columbia, and it is our best ally to support the humanities.

You know, in French, “maison” means “home” better than “house”. This is maybe the reason why American students are so attracted to this cosy red brick home! Dear Ambassador, this “home” was also yours at a certain time, since you were a member of the Advisory Board when you served as Consul général in New York from 2004 to 2008. So, welcome home tonight, and to all members of the board ! I couldn’t imagine a better group of people to work with ! Thanks to you, dear fellow members of the board, the Maison has also become my home !

Finally, I would like to thank the every-day partners of the Maison Française which, together with the Maison, make Columbia one of the leading universities for French studies: the French Department of course, the Alliance Program, the Center for French and Francophone Studies, the Institute of African Studies, and the Columbia Global Center at Reid Hall in Paris.

I now pass the mike to my dear Shanny, and I hope that all of us tonight will be as active and strong as the Maison française when we turn 100 years old as well! Thank you and “bon centenaire!”

For more information about the Maison Française, please visit:

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