Yale’s 310th Commencement: Honoring "extraordinary accomplishments"
As more than 3,000 Yale students marched onto Old Campus for Yale’s 310th Commencement, not even the threatening skies above could dampen the sense of pride and celebration felt by each and every one of Yale’s class of 2011 and the friends and family who came to see them graduate.
Once the procession of students, faculty and administrators — led by colorful flags representing the University, Yale College, the residential colleges and the professional schools — had made their way from Cross Campus to the New Haven Green and, finally, to their seats on Old Campus, President Richard Levin managed only to say “Students of the class of 2011” before the crowd erupted in cheering, many of them waving college or school banners and insignia in the air.
As has become a modern-day tradition, many students decorated their black mortarboards with emblems reflecting their academic affiliations. Some were simple stickers, while others were more elaborate affairs, such as the branches, flower arrangements and wreaths worn by School of Forestry & Environmental Studies students, or the halos fashioned out of pipe cleaners donned by Yale Divinity School graduates.
Levin conferred 2,907 degrees (in addition to 229 awarded provisionally to Yale Law School students and those in the Physician Assistant program) and 10 honorary degrees. Of those, 1,251 were awarded to the graduating class of Yale College, who, after rehearsing during Class Day the day before, stood and cheered uproariously. “Much better than Class Day,” the president joked.
All graduates were being honored for their “effort, diligence, talent and intellect,” Levin said, before reminding them of their “rights and responsibilities” that come with the degrees they had each earned.
Levin also recognized the “extraordinary accomplishments” of Yale College award winners, who were honored during Class Day on May 22. (See here). Actor Tom Hanks addressed Yale College graduates during Class Day as this year’s invited speaker. (See here).
Among the myriad academic traditions extending back throughout the University’s history on full display during the Commencement ceremony, from the hymns that were sung to the banners carried across Old Campus, it was clear that some things have changed since the first Yale commencement took place in 1702.
In addition to the more traditional degrees that were conferred, the three Master of Environmental Design degrees awarded were a reminder of Yale’s evolution and its place in the 21st century. The University administration also awarded Yale’s first Doctor of Engineering and Technology. The honorary degree went to Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse. “We touch your genius everyday,” Levin told him, to a round of applause.
Honorary degrees were also awarded to film director, writer and producer Martin Scorsese, author Joan Didion and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Other honorary degree recipients included Chris Argyris, a former Yale professor who helped found the Yale School of Management and is known as the father of organizational behavior; Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway; John Heilbron, a science historian; Youssou Ndour, an African musician; Sir Richard Peto, an epidemiologist; and Janet Davison Rowley, a physician. All were recognized for their “creativity, curiosity, integrity and passion.” (See here).
Individual diplomas were handed out to students at separate ceremonies held by the residential colleges and professional schools that took place immediately following Commencement.
More Commencement coverage can be found here.
— By Suzanne Taylor Muzzin