As the class of 2011 moved one day closer to departing from Yale, Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks’s playful Class Day address asked graduating students to remember that technology in the age of Twitter comes at a cost.
Members of the class of 2011 have accomplished an incredible amount — that much was clear from their record-breaking class gift of $240,000 including matching donations and the academic achievements of major prizewinners. But Hanks suggested that the graduates will face unique challenges going forward, thanks largely to both the benefits and drawbacks of an increasingly digital era dominated by technology that students used to tweet, snap pictures and otherwise record Yale tradition throughout the ceremony.
Hanks’ 18-minute speech — roughly half the length of Bill Clinton’s LAW ’73 speech at last year’s Class Day — asked students to advance the society they enter, and reminded them that new problems will accompany progress. As he encouraged students to check their email and tweet about his speech, Hanks also asked students to be aware of how access to information affects their actions. His advocacy of new technology came with warnings about the problems such innovation can create.
“There is a Big Brother, but he’s not a malevolent fiction, “ Hanks said, making reference to the dystopian authority figure of George Orwell’s 1984. “He’s actually all of us, and he lives in our search engines.”
Hanks’ speech was not somber for long. He made numerous jokes about the Rapture that religious group Family Radio had predicted to arrive at 6 p.m. Saturday, and called his visit to Yale one of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
At one point, Hanks told students that the sea of traditional Class Day hats before him looked as thought the recent Royal Wedding had “busted out” on Old Campus. Indeed, one female senior wore a pink Philip Treacy hat — the brand favored by friends of the royal family — dotted with naked Barbie dolls. Many students donned hats supporting their favorite sports team, but several students sported colorful, zany and sometimes bizarre toppers, including a Claire’s cake box worn as a hat.
When Hanks finished his speech, Yale College Dean Mary Miller took to the podium and made her own jokes about the use of technology. She asked members of the class of 2011 to temporarily set their phones aside to practice their “loud explosion” of applause and cheers for Monday, when University President Richard Levin officially confers degrees upon the graduates. Miller told friends and family in the audience that they were welcome to continue using their devices as long as their graduates paid close attention.
The Senior Insight speaker, Eric Randall ’11, also brought a healthy dose of humor to the day’s proceedings. In a speech titled “A Humbling Home,” Randall called Yale a “four-year ego check,” given the incredible talents of his peers. Randall said his forays into singing and journalism at Yale were foiled by superstar suitemates — including YouTube sensation Sam Tsui ’11 — who consistently bested him.
Randall concluded his speech on a more optimistic note, assuring his fellow students that the ego check would not last forever.
“Life does not end after college,” Randall said. “You just meet marginally fewer people who make you feel bad about yourself.”
Randall’s message of humility was a fitting interlude as Miller and Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway announced the winners of Yale College prizes.
Biomedical engineering major Justin Lowenthal ’11 won the Snow Prize, awarded to the student who has “done most for Yale.” A freshman counselor, club baseball player and a capella singer, Lowenthal will graduate with a 3.99 GPA and 39.5 credits of “A” grades. Intensive chemistry major Eleanor Hayes-
Larson ’11 received the Haas Prize for inspiring intellectual achievement.
Rebecca Linfield ’11, a mathematics and philosophy major, won the Chittenden Prize for scholarship in the natural sciences. Brendan Dill ’11, a cognitive science major with a 3.99 GPA, took the prize for top scholarship in the social sciences, while Emily Waldman ’11 and Jeremy Lent ’11, each of whom earned 34 grades of “A” at Yale, shared the Warren Prize for top scholarship in the humanities.
In addition, men’s hockey star Broc Little ’11 and six-time All-American track and field runner Kate Grace ’11 won the Mallory and Elliot Awards for sportsmanship.
While speakers and the makers of the Class Day video, “Life After Yale: A Guide Graduation for the Class of 2011,” poked fun at the stereotypes associated with the University, Riley Scripps Ford ’11 offered a more sentimental evaluation of the college in his class reflection. The most important thing Yale teaches, Ford said, is “to fall in love” — with a person, an academic pursuit or something else
entirely. Though the seniors will keep in touch and return periodically for reunions, Ford acknowledged that Commencement weekend marks the last time they will sit together as a class.
Toward the end of the ceremony, Elisa Gonzalez ’11 delivered the annual Ivy Ode, an original poem titled “Preparing to Leave.” When Gonzalez finished, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler led the audience in a moment of silence for the five undergraduates in the class of 2011 who have died.
Commencement exercises will begin at 10:30 a.m. Monday on Old Campus.
For more coverage of the event, read our live blog here.