Ceremonies kick off with Baccalaureate

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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.

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