Commencement 2024: A celebration of community

Yale on Monday observed its 323rd Commencement ceremony, celebrating over 4,000 students from Yale College and the graduate and professional schools.
A student looks back and smiles before processing through Porter Gate at Commencement.

(Photo by Dan Renzetti)

As members of Yale’s Class of 2024 gathered Monday morning before proceeding to Old Campus for the university’s 323rd Commencement, they generated the kind of joyous din that was harder to muster when many of them started at Yale, given pandemic conditions then. But those days are now well past, and the graduates looked forward to a well-earned celebration.

Julia Wang, standing with friends from Berkeley College, took a moment to appreciate the profound sense of community that marked her Yale years.

I will miss living so close to all my best friends,” said Wang, who majored in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and education studies. “I think the community that I found at Yale is definitely one of my favorite things about the last four years. In Berkeley College, I found a family.”

Soon, Wang and her classmates joined a tide of students from across Yale — representing every undergraduate residential college and all the graduate and professional schools — toward a sun-dappled Old Campus, where thousands of family members and friends awaited them.

The Yale University concert band played as legions of soon-to-be graduates filed into their seats. And on the main stage, Yale President Peter Salovey, presiding over his final commencement as Yale’s leader before his return to the faculty in June, welcomed the graduates and guests alike.

We gather to recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of all of you who have worked so hard to complete your programs of study,” Salovey began. “We salute your effort, your diligence, your talent and intellect.”   

University Chaplain Maytal Saltiel offered an opening prayer.

Loving and divine spirit called on by many names, we come here today as a resplendent tapestry of your creation,” she said in part. “We come in humility and celebration having delved into the nooks and crannies of your handiwork, unearthing the elements of your truth and light in the library stacks and laboratories, studios and stadiums, clinics and classrooms of this campus.”

The happy business of the event — the conferring of degrees — began with Yale College and continued through the 13 professional schools and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. All told, about 4,400 graduates received degrees across the university, including more than 1,675 undergraduates from Yale College.

Per tradition, Salovey conferred the degrees — with all their “rights and responsibilities.” (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 degrees were bestowed on the Yale School of Nursing graduates, the group unleashed a shower of confetti and silly string.

An offering of thanks

Following the conferral of degrees, Provost Scott Strobel joined Salovey in presenting honorary degrees to eight individuals — including a retired associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, a Nobel Prize-winning molecular geneticist, and a trailblazing physician and health policy leader — who have made pioneering achievements or exemplary contributions to the common good. (See related story for details.)

Strobel suprised Salovey by presenting a ninth honorary degree, a Doctor of Humane Letters, to Salovey himself, recognizing his more than four decades of service to Yale, including the past 11 as the university’s 23rd president.

Peter Salovey accepting his honorary degree.
Peter Salovey (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

When you were appointed, you said you hoped to help a great university create a more accessible, a more innovative, and a more excellent Yale,” Strobel said of Salovey, who has held more senior leadership positions at Yale than anyone in the university’s 322-year history. “You have done all three.”

The honorary degree citation noted some of the major accomplishments that marked Salovey’s presidency, including a productive university relationship with the City of New Haven that strengthened the local economy; an increase in the socioeconomic and geographic diversity of the student body, academic departments, and professional schools; and historic enhancements in Yale’s ability to make scholarly discoveries and meet pressing societal challenges.

From the start of your presidency you have inspired us to look beyond our schools, our departments, our disciplines,” Strobel said. “You have inspired us to create a Yale that is more unified. As you return to the faculty, Yale offers its thanks. We gratefully confer on you your fourth Yale degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.”

Build bridges rather than walls’

After the closing hymn, “Let Light and Truth Suffuse the Mind,” Gregory Sterling, dean of Yale Divinity School, led all gathered in a benediction:

You who are within us, enlarge our hearts to serve. Humble us to place others before ourselves. Calm our souls in the tumult of our world. Help us resolve to build bridges rather than walls.”

Throughout the day of celebration, families expressed pride in their graduates; and graduates offered thanks to those whose loving sacrifices enabled their success.

For Leleda Beraki, a graduating senior from Branford College and former president of the Yale College Council, the occasion was an opportunity to express her immense gratitude to her family and parents, Eritrean refugees who moved to the United States 15 years ago so that she could pursue her education here.

My graduation is the culmination of all the sacrifices they’ve made,” said Beraki, who will intern at the World Bank doing policy work related to global health before returning to campus next fall to complete a master’s degree in public health. “I owe all of my success to them. And all of my future achievements will result from the foundation of their sacrifices.”

Jonathan Weiss, a senior from Pauli Murray College, described mixed feelings of sadness and excitement.

I really love my Pauli Murray community here and I loved being a music major,” said Weiss, a composer who is writing a musical about Melusina, a fairy in European folklore who has the body of a serpent from the waist down. “It was the first chance in my life to really do what I wanted to do full time. It’s really bittersweet.”

After graduation, Weiss will remain in New Haven as one of two recipients of a Chauncey Fellowship, awarded by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven for college graduates pursuing the arts or community projects.

My experience at Yale has been exhausting and joyful every step of the way,” he said. “Exhausting because I’m doing everything that I want to do.”

Abigail Jones, who earned her master’s of science in nursing from the Yale School of Nursing, was looking forward to celebrating with her classmates.

We came from all kinds of walks of life and to be studying the same thing together for three years was really fun,” said Jones, who next will pursue a critical-care fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta. “It just feels like a big family.”


Share this with Facebook Share this with X Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this
Part of the In Focus Collection: Celebrating Yale 2024