Blue and white confetti shot into the air above Old Campus as University President Richard Levin conferred undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees during Yale’s 312th Commencement ceremony.
In the last Commencement of his career at the top of the University administration, Levin conferred 3,084 degrees and 262 provisional degrees before a crowd of 18,000. Yale also awarded 10 honorary degrees — including a doctorate of laws for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79 and a surprise doctorate of humane letters for Levin himself. Graduates of the Yale College Class of 2013 earned 933 Bachelor of Arts and 326 Bachelor of Science degrees.
The traditional series of processions and ceremonial exchanges began at 10:30 a.m. Monday morning. Yale College Dean Mary Miller was the first to take the stage, repeating the names of students who received awards at Sunday’s Class Day ceremony. When she asked Levin “to confer upon [Yale College seniors] these degrees,” the Yale College graduates sprang up and cheered as they had practiced with President-elect Peter Salovey the day before.
Students from each graduate and professional school then received degrees from Levin when their respective deans took to the stage. The groups all reacted differently — Law School students started cheering, “YLS! YLS!” while members of the School of Music waved instruments in the air. The University awarded the provisional degrees to law students and physician associates who have not yet completed their semesters.
Students continued the creativity displayed with Class Day hats by personalizing their graduation regalia based on their schools. Members of the School of Forestry wore flowers, branches and stuffed grizzly bears atop their caps and at least two students from the School of Drama donned clown noses. Undergraduates bore their residential college emblems on their graduation caps and a few colleges accessorized, including Morsels who waved foam axes.
Although the sky was filled with clouds that threatened rain at the beginning of the ceremony, the overcast weather eventually gave way to sunlight as the University began awarding honorary degrees.
Graduates of the law school stood and waved as Sotomayor took to the stage to receive her honorary degree.
“From the Bronx to the seat of our nations highest court, by way of Yale Law School,” Levin said, “your alma mater takes great pride in your inspiring journey.”
Levin awarded a doctorate of technology to Vinton Cerf, a computer scientist who appeared to be wearing Google Glass, describing him as “one of the fathers of the Internet.” Born in New Haven, Cerf is the vice president and chief internet evangelist for Google.
Following Cerf, religious scholar Elizabeth Clark received a doctorate of divinity for her work on the origins of Christianity, and Levin then awarded a doctorate of music to composer John Adams for his work’s ability to reflect human emotion.
“Your compositions have comforted and confronted, amused and amazed,” Levin said.
Levin next conferred a doctorate of letters upon author Edwidge Danticat for creating “truth-telling narratives” in her works about Haiti, her home country. South African artist William Kentridge received cheers from the School of Art graduates as he received his doctorate of fine arts for “helping us see in new ways.”
Economist Esther Duflo received a doctorate of social sciences for her work in development economics and poverty alleviation, and Fed-Ex founder Frederick Smith was awarded a doctorate of humane letters for revolutionizing the package transport system and consequently creating a new industry, Levin said.
“You conceived the idea that became Federal Express while writing a term paper for a Yale College economics course,” Levin added. “Your idea shrank the planet.”
Natalie Davis, a historian, received a doctorate of humanities for her transformative work in Early European history, which Levin said has “illuminated the human condition.”
After Levin conferred the nine honorary degrees, Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Ed Bass ’67 ARC ’72 stood up for a surprise announcement, which was unlisted in the ceremony program. He awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters to Levin for his service to the University.
Levin will step down this summer after 20 years in Yale’s highest office. As departing students in Yale College and the Graduate School and the rest of the audience stood to applaud him, Levin wiped away tears from his eyes. He mustered a soundless “thank you” to the crowd.
“You stand among the great presidents of Yale’s history,” Bass said. “The legacy of your service will benefit Yale forever.”
Diploma ceremonies for individual schools and residential colleges followed the ceremony on Old Campus.