Swathed in their black gowns and prepared to hurl their mortarboards skyward, more than 2,000 students gathered on Old Campus Monday to celebrate their graduation amidst pomp and circumstance at the University’s 304th Commencement ceremony.
Following a brief address by Yale President Richard Levin and a prayer from University Chaplain Frederick Streets, faculty and administration members formally presented the 1,242 assembled undergraduates and the 1,050 graduate and professional students for Levin’s recognition as new graduates of their respective schools. Some of the professional degrees, including those from the law school, were awarded on a provisional basis. After the principal ceremony, undergraduate students headed to their respective residential colleges to receive their diplomas and listen to speeches delivered by their master and dean.
The primary ceremony also featured the presentation of undergraduate prizes and the awarding of this year’s eight honorary degrees, which were conferred upon Jacqueline Barton, Robert DeVecchi, William Foege, David Hockney, Mamphela Ramphele, Paul Samuelson, Bryan Stevenson and Andrew Wiles in recognition of their lifetime accomplishments in their chosen fields.
Hockney received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree for his work as a painter, photographer, engraver, graphic designer and stage designer. DeVecchi and Ramphele were both awarded the honorary degree titled doctor of humane letters for their crusades as president of the International Refugee Committee and the first black head of the University of Cape Town, respectively. The honorary doctor of laws degree was given to Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama and has spent decades working to provide equitable legal representation for all members of society.
Foege, an epidemiologist who helped eradicate the threat of smallpox, accepted an honorary doctorate in medical sciences, while Nobel laureate Samuelson accepted an honorary doctor of social sciences degree for his work in economics, which included a tenure as the economic adviser to U.S. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. A pioneer in the field of DNA research, Barton was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree, as was Wiles, who in 1994 became the first man to prove Fermat’s last theorem since it was postulated 357 years earlier.
Even though many graduation traditions take place prior to Commencement on Class Day, some students said the final ceremony’s rich history helped imbue it with a sense of meaning.
“I really like the processional,” Kelly Brooks ’05 said. “I think it’s interesting how much history is part of the ceremony — it’s one of the things that is really special about Yale.”
Hannah Yoon ’05 said the air of the Commencement festivities had kept the realities of graduation from sinking in, but other students said they were already grappling with the conclusion of their time at Yale.
“I feel conflicted,” Ned Stainthorpe ’05 said. “I’m definitely going to be sad to leave, but it’s been great and it’s time to go.”