Commencement 2012: Celebrating effort and talent, and making noise

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Before the more than 3,000 members of Yale’s Class of 2012 were yet official graduates, their family and friends who had gathered on Old Campus for the University’s 311th Commencement ceremony were already cheering.

It began when the large projection screens showed the graduates start their ceremonial march to Old Campus, and reached a pitch when the guests viewed what is perhaps Yale’s most symbolic and beloved icon — the bulldog Handsome Dan, who processed right alongside the graduates, sporting a camera for a dog’s-eye view of the festivities.

Parents and other guests were prepared with their own cameras when the gown-clad graduates, many waving colorful flags and other insignia representing their residential college or professional school, wound their way to their seats. Adding even more color to the May 21 ceremony — held on a gray and slightly chilly morning — were the flowers and other greenery gracing the mortarboards of the new graduates of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the traditional pipe-cleaner halos donned by the graduating School of Divinity class, and the various stickers that some students chose as decorations for their caps, including one that read “I Stand for Women’s Health,” atop the caps of many students from the School of Public Health.

See some of the scenes of Commencement.

While the students marched toward their seats, a four-minute rain downpour forced those assembled on Old Campus to open their umbrellas and quickly take cover under blue ponchos with hoods. After greeting the graduates and their guests, President Richard C. Levin announced that the ceremony would be an abbreviated one due to the weather (the singing of one hymn and the announcement of student winners of Yale College prizes were eliminated from the program). As luck would have it, only a light drizzle misted the crowd for the remainder of the ceremony.

As the deans announced the graduates of their respective schools and called upon Levin to confer their degrees, the students cheered and hooted. Particularly vocal were the 62 recipients of master’s degrees from the School of Architecture. Their dean, Robert A.M. Stern, predicted of his graduates: “They will make great noise in this world.”

Levin conferred a total of 3,021 degrees, in addition to 251 that were awarded provisionally to students of the Yale Law School and 34 students in the Physician Assistant program, who complete their programs a bit later. He saluted all of the graduates for their “extraordinary accomplishments” and for their “effort, diligence, talent, and intellect.” The 1,249 Yale College graduates were also feted the previous day during Class Day exercises, which featured an address by renowned journalist Barbara Walters. (Read story.)

Levin also presented nine honorary degrees, which celebrated the accomplishments of, among others, poet Richard Wilbur; former CIA director and U.S. defense secretary Robert M. Gates; violinist and music advocate Midori; and retired Massachusetts judge Margaret H. Marshall, who authored a decision that allowed her state become the first in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. New graduates of the Law School cheered loudly when Marshall, who earned her Juris Doctor degree from Yale in 1976, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. (See the full list of honorary degree recipients.)

Harold W. Attridge, dean of the Divinity School, offered a prayer for the graduates and their guests, as well as for faculty members and the many Yale staff members who made the graduation ceremony possible. He also closed the ceremony with a benediction, exhorting the graduates to “live lives dedicated to light and truth.”

The graduates left the Old Campus for separate ceremonies in the residential colleges and professional schools — at which they receive their individual diplomas — to the sounds of the Yale Band playing “Parade” and “Pacific Celebration Suite” by Roger Nixon and John Philip Sousa’s “The National Game.” As they paused beyond the Old Campus gates for quick photos with friends and family members, the rain picked up again, but smiles were in abundance on the umbrella-shielded faces of the graduates and their guests, and the wetness did not deter the sharing of high-fives, hugs, and other celebratory exchanges as they happily made their way to their next festivity.