Commencement 2023: All hail the graduates!

Yale on Monday observed its 322nd Commencement ceremony, celebrating over 4,000 students and conferring honorary degrees on nine other inspirational figures.
2023 Yale graduates celebrating on Old Campus

(Photo by Dan Renzetti)

Yale University on Monday celebrated its 322nd Commencement, hailing milestone achievements for more than 4,000 students in Yale College and the graduate and professional schools, and conferring honorary degrees on nine inspirational figures of extraordinary achievement and character.

Well before the formal start of ceremonies, legions of soon-to-be graduates and their professors, resplendent in robes and regalia, gathered on Cross Campus for the traditional procession to Old Campus, where a stage and a sea of some 19,000 seats awaited, many already occupied by cheering family and friends who’d convened from across the globe. Handsome Dan, the Yale mascot (also known as Kingman), made himself known, too.

I’m just feeling excited to be able to celebrate my hard work and accomplishments with my family here,” Sophie Huttner ’23 of Silliman College said early in the day. “It both feels like somehow I’ve been here my whole life and also like they just dropped me off yesterday for my first year.”

By midmorning, Huttner had settled in, with her undergraduate classmates and students from the graduate and professional schools, on Old Campus for a program of song and spirit, and the celebration of hard work — not by the graduates alone — and sacrifice justly rewarded.

We gather to recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of all of you, all of you who have worked so hard to complete your programs of study,” Yale President Peter Salovey said in remarks of welcome, the ceremonial Yale Mace resting on a blue cushion before him. “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: your families, your friends, your teachers, and other members of the Yale community.”

Slideshow: Scenes from Commencement Day 2023

And in the “dazzling beauty” of a temperate, blue-sky morning, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler, delivered an all-embracing invocation.

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,” she said. “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.”

Rousing musical preludes and interludes from the Yale University Concert Band punctuated the ceremony and intensified the day’s spirit, as did joyful outbursts of song and chant from the graduates and their supporters. Throughout the event the Yale Glee Club led the hymns.

The happy business of the event — the conferring of degrees — began with Yale College. In his first Commencement as Yale College dean, Pericles Lewis presented to Salovey the 1,401 candidates for undergraduate degrees, prompting a raucous ovation. Cheering graduates waved emblems representing each of their residential colleges, banners for some, balloons and bells for others.

In happy succession, the deans of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the professional schools came forward to declare the degree candidates from their own intellectual spheres.

Per tradition, Salovey conferred the degrees — with all their “rights and responsibilities” — after which student marshals from each school crossed the stage to accept the symbolic honors. (And in a couple cases, as that of the law school, the president cheerfully pledged to confer the degrees; some Yale schools conclude the year later than the rest.)

After the School of Nursing degrees were bestowed, the new graduates unleashed a shower of confetti and silly string.

When Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School, asked Salovey to confer degrees on the doctoral candidates, she shifted into a new mode of expression: Latin.

Te, domine, rogo ut eos ad hunc gradum admittas,” she said [which can be roughly translated as “I ask you, sir, to admit these degrees”].

Salovey, without missing a beat, responded in kind: “Nunc, studiis fliciter absolutis, ego, praeses univeritatis, vos ex animo iubeo salvere et valere.” [In effect only: Now I, the university president, grant the degrees.]

(In accordance with Yale tradition, undergraduates later returned to their residential colleges, and graduate and professional students to other special spots on campus, to receive their diplomas in additional intimate ceremonies.)

Following the conferral of degrees came another much anticipated moment in the academic year: the presentation of honorary degrees.

Yale Provost Scott Strobel joined Salovey in presenting them to nine honorands, individuals who have made pioneering achievements or exemplary contributions to the common good. (See related story).

Lonnie G. Bunch III, a historian and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution who was also, Salovey noted, “the visionary force in establishing the National Museum of African American History and Culture, whose holdings remind us that a people’s journey is a nation’s story”;

Guido Calabresi ’53, ’58 LL.B., an eminent legal scholar and judge and a beloved former dean of Yale Law School;

Andrés Duany ’74 M.Arch. and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk ’74 M.Arch., two architects whose vision for smart growth revolutionized town planning;

France A. Córdova, an accomplished astrophysicist who is a former director of the National Science Foundation and chief scientist for NASA;

Robert Caro, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer whose admired biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson have revealed the mechanisms of power;

Max Dale Cooper, an immunologist whose discoveries helped lay the foundation of modern medicine;

and Deborah Willis, photographer, artist, and author, whose work documents and celebrates the African American experience.

Also receiving an honorary degree was Oscar-nominated actor Paul Giamatti ’89, ’94 M.F.A., a son of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, the 19th president of Yale, who received a Doctor of Fine Arts degree.

Whether on stage at the Yale Rep or on screens around the world, your gift as an actor confers lux and lends veritas to every role you inhabit,” Salovey recited from Giamatti’s degree citation.

Enlighten their eyes’

After the closing hymn, “Let Light and Truth Suffuse the Mind,” Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling led all gathered in a benediction.

As we send these graduates into an unknown future, grant them the vision to see the divine in all,” he said. “Open their hearts to right the injustices that we have not overcome. Enlighten their eyes to see what no one has perceived.”

Throughout the day, families expressed pride in their graduates. For the landmark occasion, Avery Naperala ’23 M.P.H., a graduate from the Yale School of Public Health, was joined by her mother, brother, sister, and grandmother.

I’m excited and proud beyond measure,” said her mother, Jennifer.

For many students, the days leading up to Commencement were as reflective as they were celebratory. Huttner, the Yale College graduate from Silliman College, shared some advice for the next generation of Yalies.

Each person going to Yale can decide what Yale should mean for them,” she said. “Don’t let anyone else define your Yale experience for you; let it be your own.”

For Christina Tuttle ’23, a Branford College senior who studied computer science and global affairs, it’s the small moments that will stand out when she looks back on her college days.

Don’t put too much pressure on individual moments,” she said. “The things that were really meaningful to me were unexpected, like time with my suitemates or moments in class — none of the big, monumental things you’d expect.”

Just the night before she’d experienced a fresh instance of unexpected meaning. It came in the form of a text message from her father, a long one relaying his pride and love.

I feel like we’ve been waiting so long for this moment,” she said of Commencement, “and now that it has finally come, it’s so much faster.”


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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale Commencement 2023

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