At final Baccalaureate, Levin urges graduates to lead society

In his Baccalaureate address, University President Richard  Levin asked graduates to think about how to strengthen education, invest in infrastructure and reform entitlement programs, such as Social Security.
In his Baccalaureate address, University President Richard Levin asked graduates to think about how to strengthen education, invest in infrastructure and reform entitlement programs, such as Social Security. Photo by Joyce Xi.

During Saturday afternoon’s Baccalaureate service, the first official event of commencement weekend, University President Richard Levin urged the graduating class to take the “long view” when considering solutions to some of society’s most pressing challenges.

Levin and Yale College Dean Mary Miller both congratulated the graduating seniors of Morse, Pierson, Timothy Dwight and Saybrook Colleges on their accomplishments, ranging from theater performances to the hockey team’s success. In his address, Levin asked graduates to think about how to strengthen education, invest in infrastructure and reform entitlement programs, such as Social Security.

Levin acknowledged that this must be a task on which both he and the graduates embark, as he concludes his service this year as president after two decades leading the University.

“I feel myself, for the first time in 20 years of Baccalaureate addresses, in true communion with you: You and I are going to need some time to figure out what’s next,” Levin said. “Speak up and lead this nation and the world to the future you deserve. I will be working alongside you helping in whatever way I can.”

Levin cited the failure of legislators to “restore even the most moderate restrictions” on firearms following last December’s Newtown shooting as an example of a paralyzed and polarized Congress. Among the various issues that require attention are climate change and investment in scientific innovation, he said, warning that if no action is taken soon, the Class of 2013’s generation and other future generations will be punished for the inaction of his own generation.

“We need fresh voices at the table and you, the best educated citizens of your generation, need to be among them,” Levin said. “No one is openly advocating taxing your generation to support ours, but this will be the consequence of our current political paralysis, if it persists. You need to rise to the challenge, speak for yourselves and lead your generation to a better life.”

While Levin traditionally prepares a formal address for the ceremony, Miller delivers selected readings. This year’s graduating class is the first that she will see both matriculate and graduate, Miller noted.

Miller read a humorous passage from Yale lecturer Cynthia Zarin’s poem “From the Book of Knowledge,” which she has featured at previous Baccalaureate services, and also kept with tradition in reciting the closing lines of John Milton’s poem, “Paradise Lost,” comparing Adam and Eve’s exit from the Garden of Eden to the graduating class’ commencement.

“As you may particularly feel on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, [Adam and Eve’s] departure seemed to them sudden, unwarranted, abrupt [and] inevitable,” Miller said.

Saturday afternoon’s service was the first of three — the rest of the class of 2013 will attend two services on Sunday, at 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.

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