Sunshine, bulldogs, and bluegrass at Yale's 313th Commencement
Jumping up and cheering loudly while whirling noise-makers, streaming confetti, and wearing decorated mortarboards, the Yale School of Nursing’s 110 graduates perfectly embodied the celebration and excitement displayed by all who attended Yale’s 313th Commencement.
The nursing graduates were among more than 3,000 Yale students, faculty, and administrators who made their way from Cross Campus to the New Haven Green to Old Campus, as Harkness Tower rang out “Bright College Years.” Many were waving flags and banners representing colleges and professional schools; a number of students had decorated their black mortarboards with emblems reflecting their academic affiliations. (Read “A guide to graduation fashion.”)
Families and guests were able to watch the procession on large projection screens, cheering as students took their seats. As in years past, the volume swelled when guests viewed on screen what is perhaps Yale’s most beloved icon — the bulldog Handsome Dan, who processed right alongside the graduates.
“Perfection” was a word heard often to describe the setting as the sun shone down and the Elm City’s signature trees further decorated caps and gowns with small pointed leaves.
This was the inaugural commencement ceremony for Yale President Peter Salovey. After welcoming graduates, their families, and guests, he conferred a total of 3,130 degrees, in addition to 250 that were awarded provisionally to students of the Yale Law School and 36 students in the Physician Assistant Program, who complete their programs later in the year. He saluted all of the degree recipients for their “extraordinary accomplishments, diligence, talent, and intellect.”
The 1,302 Yale College graduates had also been feted the previous day during Class Day exercises, which featured an address by Secretary of State John Kerry ’66. (Read “Secretary of State John Kerry to Class of 2014: ‘Disturb the universe.’”)
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Representatives from each of Yale’s 12 colleges accepted degrees on behalf of their classmates. Individual diplomas were handed out to students at separate ceremonies held at the residential colleges and professional schools after Commencement.
Deans of the Graduate School and professional schools followed. The Yale School of Nursing students erupted both when Dean Margaret Gray presented them to the President and again when he conferred their degrees. In another lively exchange, Tom Pollard, outgoing dean of the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, presented his students entirely in Latin, with Salovey responding in kind.
Salovey also presented 12 honorary degrees that celebrated the accomplishments of, among others, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; poet Rita Dove, the youngest person to have held the position of U.S. poet laureate; singer and songwriter Ralph Stanley, a pioneer of mountain and bluegrass music; plant biologist Elliott Meyerowitz, whose work revolutionized the field of modern plant science; actor, director, and playwright Anna Devere Smith; and David Swensen ’80 Ph.D., chief investment officer at Yale University, who in 2012 also received the Yale Medal, presented by the Association of Yale Alumni.
“David, you are one of our great university citizens,” said Salovey, “You have used your own gifts to secure our future. Your unconventional success has allowed Yale to grow and prosper, and the Yale model has become the gold standard for endowment portfolio management.”
As Stanley received the final honorary degree — Doctor of Music — musicians performed one of his signature numbers, “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Salovey, who plays bass and helped found The Professors of Bluegrass — a rotating membership of Yale faculty, students, and residents of New Haven — clearly took delight in the tribute. (Read “Yale awards 12 honorary degrees at 2014 graduation.”)
Greg Sterling, dean of the Divinity School, closed the ceremony with a benediction. To all the new graduates he offered a special prayer “that they may see what no one has imagined; that they may have the courage to speak when pressured to be silent; that they live in service for others; and contemplate the beautiful.”
As the Yale Concert Band played, graduates recessed out of Old Campus, pausing briefly for photos with friends and family members, before heading off to receptions and celebrations.