As Yale said farewell to more than 1,300 undergraduates and Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead May 23 and 24, the University also welcomed U.S President George W. Bush ’68 and First Lady Laura Bush to New Haven.
Class Day on Sunday featured a speech by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in which Burns strongly criticized the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, and numerous honors for Brodhead, who will leave Yale July 1 to become the president of Duke University. Today’s Commencement exercises included a surprise appearance by Laura Bush and the awarding of eight honorary degrees, as well as the conference of degrees to all of this year’s Yale College graduates.
Both the seniors and the University marked Brodhead’s departure during Class Day. The graduates presented Brodhead with a Mory’s Cup and University Provost Susan Hockfield announced the prize for teaching excellence by a lecturer or lector will be permanently renamed the Richard H. Brodhead Teaching Prize. Both times the honors were announced, Brodhead received a standing ovation.
“Eloquent, passionate and just darn likeable, this person’s love for Yale has influenced us all,” Senior Class Secretary Joshua Secrest ’04 said while presenting the cup.
The president and the first lady were among the celebrating parents arriving in New Haven for the weekend. Along with both of their daughters — the other, Jenna, graduated this year from the University of Texas at Austin — the Bushes flew into Tweed-New Haven Airport Sunday afternoon to celebrate the graduation of their daughter Barbara Bush ’04.
The president left the city early in the evening after visiting the home of Yale President Richard Levin and attending a private party to celebrate his daughter’s graduation at Brodhead’s home. The first lady remained in New Haven through Sunday, attending Commencement and the diploma ceremony in Davenport College. Laura Bush’s spokespeople had previously said neither the president nor the first lady planned to attend any official University ceremonies.
“It was a last minute decision,” Press Secretary to the First Lady Gordon Johndroe said.
Johndroe declined to comment about who attended the party held Sunday.
Barbara Bush attended her Commencement ceremony, Yale spokeswoman Dorie Baker said, though she could not be seen clearly in the crowd. But Barbara Bush did not attend Class Day.
In his speech, Burns accused the Bush Administration of replacing the country’s traditional “healthy doubt” with “arrogance.” Invoking President Abraham Lincoln, Burns called on the graduates to form “a new Union Army” and promote tolerance instead of fundamentalism.
“Steel yourself. Your generation will have to repair the damage and it will not be easy,” Burns said, referring to the divide in the country.
Many of the gathered undergraduates applauded his remarks.
Some students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies joined in Burns’ sentiments and protested Bush’s visit to the Elm City. The president’s visit forced students to move a planned cocktail party out of Sage Hall, a move Heather Kaplan FES ’04, one the protest’s organizers, said was understandable. But she said the students also wanted to show Bush they do not support him.
At Commencement, the University awarded honorary degrees to baseball legend Willie Mays, author and journalist Tom Wolfe GRD ’57, current Duke University President Nannerl Keohane GRD ’67, photographer Lee Friedlander and others.
“Perhaps the only time we’ll see you dressed in blue,” Levin quipped as the usually white-suited Wolfe stepped up to accept the honor.
Mays, introduced by a video clip showing his famous over-the-shoulder catch at the 1954 World Series, received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Seniors said they enjoyed the Commencement festivities.
“A lot of fun, I’d like to do it again,” Sparsh Khandeshi ’04 said.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.