Ceremonies kick off with Baccalaureate

Photo by Brianne Bowen.

One day before donning their gowns and festive hats for Class Day, the seniors of Berkeley, Calhoun, Davenport and Ezra Stiles colleges gathered for the Baccalaureate service to hear addresses from University President Richard Levin and Yale College Dean Mary Miller in Woolsey Hall.

“You certainly have made something of yourself at Yale College,” Levin told the class of 2011 in his speech.

Levin enumerated the accomplishments of the graduating seniors throughout his opening remarks — noting that the 30 percent of students receiving cum laude honors had the highest grade point averages in Yale College history. He also highlighted the achievements of individuals in the performing arts, athletics and entrepreneurship, among other fields.

In her remarks, Miller offered readings of “From the Book of Knowledge” — a poem by English lecturer

Cynthia Zarin that drew laughs from the crowd with its mixture of childish questions and frank or deeply profound answers — and a traditional passage from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” As she sat down after her readings, Miller received a thumbs-up from Levin.

Levin began his speech by asking the class of 2011 to reflect for a moment on how they had reached this milestone in their lives. After asking the daunting question he paused for only a few seconds, receiving laughs from audience.

Referencing a work by Sterling Professor of Law and former Law School Dean Anthony Kronman GRD ’72 LAW ’75, Levin asked the seniors to consider what constitutes a good life, and what kind of lives they would like to lead. The point of a liberal arts education, Kronman argues, is that students should search for the answers to these questions throughout their college experience. Some find an answer to this question during their four years at Yale, Levin said, but not most.

“The rest of you are still searching for answers, some of you are still searching for a job,” he said. “So let me reassure you, and your parents, this is fine.”

While many colleges and universities bestow degrees upon their graduates with “rights and privileges,” Levin said the degrees given by Yale come with “rights and responsibilities.” He asked members of the senior class to take on those responsibilities, and maintain Yale’s tradition of service and leadership.

Levin will formally confer University degrees on the class of 2011 during Commencement on Monday.

Watch the ceremony here. Read Levin’s speech here.


  • ElizabethGrayHenry

    It makes me really sad that Yale has become so secular that even the Baccalaureate service is secular. A traditional reading from Paradise Lost? Really?

  • jinjdkla

    Wow. SOrry not everybody’s Christian. Why don’t we then read off of the Quran, the Catholic Bible (w/ the “apocrypha”), the Torah, the Confucian texts, the Hindu texts, the Mahasamghika, and every other religion that yalies have?

  • Inigo_Montoya

    @jin: Baccalaureate does in fact begin with readings from sacred Jewish, Christian, and Muslim texts by students who have been prominent in Yale’s organizations for students of those faiths. Going on the lux et veritas theme, the readings all are about God as or as related to “light.”

    That said, I’m sure Elizabeth would find the service “secular.” To the extent that it has religious rituals, they are ecumenical and fairly fuzzy bunny. She might appreciate the singing of sacred (Christian) music (including Randall Thompson’s Alleluia by the Yale Glee Club), though.

  • Leah

    That’s why I skipped it. As an atheist, I have no interest in marking my commencement with prayer, and I don’t know why Christian students like Elizabeth should want to hear a simplistic gloss on their faith in addition to whatever services their place of worship offers this weekend.

  • Goldie08

    Levin’s speech was great, just as it was during my bacc. Its nice that he addresses the undergrads directly in this ceremony –

  • RexMottram08

    Baccalaureate is the biggest joke of commencement weekend.

    Secular to the point of self-parody.

  • PhysicsAlum

    Memory of my year’s Baccalaureate: Levin talked about China. For a long time. China China China.

    Also, seeing the grad degree robes of many of the professors and administrators and realizing that Yale really does love to hire its own.

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