Braff, who graduated from CHS in 1993, went on to a successful career in television and film, starring in the hit comedy series Scrubs, and directing, writing and acting in the films Garden State and Wish I Was Here.
Braff was funny, self-deprecating and thoughtful in his comments to the students, telling them that they can never fail if they just refuse to give up. He also urged them to take responsibility for their actions and to be kind. “What goes around comes around,” said Braff. “I can tell you.”
Almost just as funny was Johanna Wright, Braff’s physical education teacher at South Orange Middle School, who said she texted Braff incessantly to get him to come and accept the award. “You came from the bottom and now you’re here,” Wright explained, to appreciative laughter, as the content of one text. In another text, she went for the heart strings, telling him that the Hall of Fame wall in the CHS library just wasn’t complete without him.
Wright described Braff as “humble and unaffected.” Braff’s speech to the student body proved her point. (See our video from Braff’s speech here.)
The Columbia High School Hall of Fame was first established in 1985 by then student council president, Andrew Shue, who was himself inducted in 1994 with his sister, Elizabeth Shue. The Columbia Student Council oversees the Hall of Fame and, along with faculty advisors, selects nominees from a long list of very accomplished graduates.
In order to be selected for this honor, the nominees had to have been role models for other students while they were at Columbia. They also must be distinguished in their field of endeavor, be leaders in their professions and be dedicated to the betterment of society.
After making their selections each year, the student council members are sworn to secrecy until the names of the nominees are announced at the student Hall of Fame assembly. The inductees are invited to address the students at the assembly and then attend a reception in their honor.
Hall of Fame inductees include:
- 1985 Amalya Kearse ’55, Federal Judge; Roy Scheider ’50, Actor
- 1986 Drew Middleton ’31, Newspaper Reporter
- 1987 Max Weinberg ’69, Musician
- 1988 Arthur Bartner ’58, Music Educator and Director; Joetta Clark ’80, Olympic Athlete
- 1989 Alfred C. Kinsey ’12*, Human Behaviorist; Robert Sternberg ’68, Psychologist
- 1990 Judith Viorst ’48, Author
- 1991 James Gerstenzang ’65, Newspaper Reporter; Peter S. Connor ’50*, Congressional Medal of Honor
- 1992 Teresa Wright ’38, Actress; Capt. John Payne ’63, Naval Submarine Officer
- 1993 Linda Gottlieb ’56, Writer, Movie Producer
- 1994 Elisabeth Shue ’81, Actress; Andrew Shue ’85, Actor, Activist and Entrepreneur
- 1995 Henry Pryor ’43, Athlete and Educator; Dr. Orrin Devinsky ’74, Neurologist
- 1996 Myrth York ’64, Political Leader; Mark Bryant ’84, Professional Athlete
- 1997 Peter Cross ’54, Educator and Professional Athlete
- 1998 Peter Eisenman ’50, Architect; Keith Neumann ’82, Police Officer
- 1999 Lauryn Hill ’93, Musician and Actress
- 2000 Robert E. Button ’32, Communications Expert
- 2001 Alberto L. Ibarguen ’62, Newspaper Publisher; Charles K. Williams ’54, Poet, Author, Pulitzer Prize Winner
- 2002 Barbara Rankin Charnes ’49, Environmentalist; Howard Lander ’68, Music Industry Executive
- 2003 Charles Coleman ’83, Professor Aeronautics and Astronautics; Jane Musky ’72, Production Designer
- 2004 Kristen Bowsher ’84, Soccer Player of the Century and Biomedical Engineer ; Donna Marino ’76, Film Editor
- 2005 David Javerbaum ’89, Comedy Writer, Lyricist and Author; Robert Bianchi ’79*, Athlete and Naval Aviator
- 2006 Francis Barnes ‘67, Educator, Former PA Secretary of Education; Leigh Howard Stevens ’71, Classical Marimbist
- 2007 Erna Schneider Hoover, Ph.D. ’44, Technology Pioneer; Dr. Yolande Troublefield ’79, Lawyer and Surgeon
- 2008 Matthew Cooper ’80, Journalist; Paul Auster ’65, Author
- 2009 Benjamin Cohen, ’62, Former Superior Court Judge; Joan Oppenheimer Cohen, ’63, School Psychologist ; Amy Cohen, ’88, Won National Court Case for Equal Rights for Women in School Sports; Dan Cohen, ’91, Senior Coordinating Producer, Fox News Channel
- 2010 Justice Helen E. Hoens ’72, New Jersey Supreme Court Justice; Robert Verdi ‘86, Celebrity Stylist and Television Personality
- 2011 Dr. Megan Coffee ‘94, M.D. with Specialty in AIDS Research; Ms. Lois Whitman ’44, Lawyer and Founder/Director of Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division
- 2012 Julie Brill ‘77, Attorney and Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission ; Mark Blum ’68, Obie award-winning actor, producer and screen-writer
- 2013 Carla Peterman ’95, CA State Commissioner for Public Utilities; Stephanie Sharo Chiese ’95, Space Systems Engineer; Jordan Levy ’95, Managing Director of Ubuntu Education Fund, South Africa
- 2014 Ahmed Best ’81, Actor; Thomas Auth ’86, Olympic Rower
- 2015 Zach Braff ’93, Actor/Director
* Inducted Posthumously