Friendship and gratitude mark the 321st Commencement
Under a clear blue sky, the members of the Yale College Class of 2022 began gathering on Cross Campus at 9:30 a.m. today to line up for their procession to Old Campus and the university’s 321st Commencement.
They stood with friends from their residential colleges and soaked in the final moments of their undergraduate experiences. There was laughter and abundant smiles, and perhaps a few moist eyes, as these students, who were sophomores when the pandemic began, prepared to close an important chapter of their lives.
“I’m feeling a lot of emotions,” said Fiona O’Brien, a resident of Pierson College. “I’m trying to drink it all in. It’s such a beautiful campus and such a beautiful place. I’m getting choked up just talking about it.”
Sunny days on Cross Campus are among the highlights of her Yale experience, said O’Brien, who majored in environmental engineering and carried Pierson’s flag in the procession.
“I love being here and sitting on a picnic blanket with friends, just running into people that you know and love,” said O’Brien, who will work in climate change and sustainability consulting in Chicago beginning this fall. “Especially during the pandemic, when I was living off campus last year, my friends and I would always come to Cross Campus, and it was beautiful to see people coming together.”
Yousra Omer, the flagbearer for Davenport College, was already feeling nostalgic for her undergraduate days, explaining that she’d spent a good portion of the morning taking photos with friends and family to capture the happy moment for posterity.
“I loved the friends I made here,” said Omer, a political science major with a focus on health, politics and policy. “They are the people who made Yale for me.”
By 10 a.m., the graduates began their walk to a university-wide celebration on Old Campus, where their parents, families, and friends awaited them. And from every corner of campus, graduating students and faculty from Yale’s professional and graduate schools marched jubilantly to the same ceremony, to the sound of drumbeats, celebratory music, and the cheers of well-wishers.
On sun-dappled Old Campus, Yale President Peter Salovey welcomed all of the graduates and their guests.
“We gather to recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of all of you, who have worked so hard to complete your programs of study,” Salovey said. “We salute your effort, your diligence, your talent, and your intellect. We also join you in expressing gratitude for all who have supported you in these endeavors.”
University Chaplain Sharon Kugler offered an invocation.
“We stand in the dazzling beauty of this morning as many expressions of one living mystery — a mystery beyond all telling,” Kugler said. “We who share this beautiful but aching world. We who look at the same sun and the same moon are a people called to communal restoration. As students of your handiwork, we have gathered here from throughout the earth with exquisite ambitions and have been blessed at this place of light and truth with the freedom to let them grow.”
After the invocation, Dean Marvin Chun, in his final commencement as head of Yale College, presented the 1,379 candidates for undergraduate degrees, prompting a rousing, sustained ovation.
Then each of the deans of the Graduate School and professional schools came forward to state the number of degree recipients from their respective institutions. As Salovey conferred degrees with all their “rights and responsibilities,” student marshals from each school crossed the stage to accept the symbolic honors. The graduates of the Yale School of Nursing — in what has become customary — unleashed a cannonade of sparkling confetti and a torrent of silly string when Salovey conferred their degrees.
Honoring creativity, integrity, curiosity
After the student degrees were conferred, Provost Scott Strobel presented honorary degrees to 10 people who set new standards of excellence in a range of fields, from the performing arts and life sciences to service at the highest levels of government.
“The 10 individuals we honor this morning serve as examples to you, our graduates, to encourage you to aspire to excellence; to value those elements of human character that they embody: creativity, curiosity, discipline, integrity, and a passion for public service,” Salovey said.
The late diplomat Madeleine K. Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state, was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree in memoriam. Jake Watson, a member of the Yale College Class of 2022 and Albright’s grandson, accepted the degree on behalf of his family.
“A scholar, a stateswoman, a stalwart voice of democracy,” Salovey said of Albright. “Coming to America as a child, she embodied the American dream, breaking barriers in her political career, and promoting human rights for all.”
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, scientists whose work was crucial to development of the messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccines, received Doctor of Science degrees. (Weissman was unable to attend the ceremony.)
“Resilient in your pursuit to expand the boundaries of knowledge, you stood unwavering against challenges and skepticism,” Salovey said of Karikó. “After learning of the mechanisms of messenger RNA, you knew that its capacities could be channeled for the greater good. You stayed the course, and your perseverance has transformed a beleaguered world.”
Also receiving honorary degrees were physician and researcher Jean Bennett ’76 B.S.; U.S. Representative James E. Clyburn; historian and author Jill Lepore ’92 M.A., ’93 M.Phil., ’95 Ph.D.; historical and cultural sociologist and author Orlando Patterson; musician and composer Caroline Shaw ’07 M.M.; jurist Myron H. Thompson ’69 B.A. ’72 J.D.; and journalist and broadcaster Krista Tippett ’94 M.Div.
‘Open their hearts’
After the closing hymn, “Let Light and Truth Suffuse the Mind,” Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling led all gathered in a benediction, which said in part:
“As we send these graduates into an unknown future, grant them the vision to see the divine in all. Open their hearts to right the injustices that we have not overcome. Enlighten their eyes to see what no one has perceived.”
Once the ceremony concluded, the graduates marched back to their respective residential colleges or professional schools where more intimate, degree-granting ceremonies were held.
Earlier in the day, Francesco Spirli ’22, who carried the flag for Benjamin Franklin College, described feeling “exhilarated” as he waited for the procession to begin.
“Graduating from Yale carries a lot of responsibility but it’s a huge honor, and I’m really thankful for this experience,” said Spirli, who majored in political science and Italian studies and will attend Harvard Law School in the fall.
Spirli said he’ll miss his fellow students and the faculty, including his mentor, David Cameron, emeritus professor of political science and director of the European Studies Program.
“A lot of people believed in me and carried me through these four years.”
Visit the Yale2022 website for more coverage from across campus of the 2022 Yale commencement celebrations.