It never gets old, even the 307th time around.
Bedecked in blue and tinted with the flair of British celebrity, the University conferred 3,117 degrees on Monday to graduates from its college, graduate and professional schools in a triumphant ceremony kissed by a cloudless sky.
Seated in plastic white lawn chairs beneath the sun-stroked oaks of Old Campus, some 18,000 spectators watched as their sons, daughters, grandchildren and friends took their final steps toward the completion of a Yale education. There were no skits today, no jokes to besmirch the dignity of Commencement — just ear-to-ear pride as degree candidates became Yale alumni.
While Sunday’s Class Day offered graduating seniors in Yale College an afternoon of lightheartedness and nostalgia complemented by an oration from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Monday’s Commencement was all business.
“Mr. President, I have the honor to present candidates for the bachelor’s degrees in Yale College,” Dean Peter Salovey said as he presented the class of 2008 to University President Richard Levin, who officiated the ceremony from a tent-covered dais in front of Durfee Hall.
The 1,285 graduating seniors roared with applause, hoots and hollers.
“You haven’t graduated yet,” Levin quipped.
But a moment later, they would.
“By the authority vested in me,” the president intoned, “I confer upon you the bachelors’ degrees in Yale College, as designated by the dean, and admit you to all their rights and responsibilities.”
Levin, presiding over his 15th Commencement ceremony, repeated similar words over and over again to confer degrees upon 1,832 newly minted alumni of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Yale’s professional schools.
He also awarded honorary degrees to eight distinguished individuals, including Sir Paul McCartney, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and former School of Architecture Dean Cesar Pelli.
Only the honorary degree recipients were recognized by name at the University-wide Commencement ceremony, which stretched on for little over an hour. Following the Old Campus affair, students received their degrees individually in their own residential colleges and at the Graduate School and professional schools.
Overall, Monday marked a gallant end to what was a weekend of pomp and circumstance for the graduating Elis. Earlier in the weekend, at three separate services, Levin bid farewell to graduating seniors in his Baccalaureate Address — but not before calling on them to “step up to the responsibilities of global citizenship.”
On the 40th anniversary of his own college graduation — and in remarks that would mirror Blair’s Class Day address — Levin noted how the world has shrunk over the last generation.
Indeed, that change could be seen even on the Old Campus on Monday. Yale’s graduating class in 1968 had 19 international students from 14 countries; the class of 2008, meanwhile, has 106 students from outside the United States, representing 41 countries.
“A complete twenty-first century education requires one essential new skill: the capacity for cross-cultural understanding,” Levin said. “Only with this capacity … will you achieve your full potential in the inevitably global careers you will pursue and in the contribution you will make to the greater society.”
Echoing remarks he made in interviews abroad earlier this year, Levin noted that American leaders have been plagued, throughout history, by what the president called “isolation and insularity.” He urged the graduating class to chart a different course, particularly when it comes to issues like the global fight against climate change.
“Your generation will have an opportunity to remedy this historic deficiency, in an era in which international cooperation is needed more than ever if we are to continue to make progress toward a better life for all,” the president said.
Following Levin’s recitations of his Baccalaureate Address was Class Day, held under sunny skies Sunday afternoon amid heavy security.
In addition to the awarding of undergraduate awards, six members of the faculty were feted for their service to the University — computer science professor Stanley Eisenstat, history professor Keith Wrightson, political science lecturer Cynthia Horan, religious studies professor Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, political science visiting professor Boris Kapustin and history professor John Lewis Gaddis.
Class Day also brought the announcement of this year’s Senior Class gift, a total of $26,617.80, among the highest in Yale history. Nearly three in four seniors contributed to the gift, according to the senior gift chairs, Lindsay Ullman ’08 and former Yale College Council President Rebecca Taber ’08.
And despite a silent protest from a few dozen Elis for his role in launching the war in Iraq, Blair — whose eldest son, Euan Blair GRD ’08, received a master’s degree Monday — was treated to a standing ovation after a speech blessed with both wit and practical advice for the graduating seniors.
“To my fellow parents, I say, let us rejoice and be glad together,” Blair said. “To the Yale College class of 2008, I say, well done, and may blessings and good fortune be yours in the years to come.”
As Monday’s Commencement drew to a close, students smiled, blinked back tears and craned their necks, searching for familiar faces in the crowd. Seniors filed out onto Elm Street, turning toward their residential colleges for private ceremonies from which each would depart from holding a Yale diploma. And with that, the shortest, gladdest years came to a close and seniors turned to set sail on life’s sea, still waving their white handkerchiefs into a cloudless New Haven sky.