Yesterday afternoon, the Yale community inaugurated University President Peter Salovey using the ancient symbols of his new office.
Salovey’s official induction into the Yale presidency took place the moment Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation Margaret Marshall LAW ‘76 presented him with “the symbols of authority,” explained Martha Highsmith, senior advisor to the president. These symbols include the 1701 University Charter, the University Seal and the keys to four campus buildings: Connecticut Hall, Dwight Hall, Sterling Memorial Library and the Harkness Tower gateway. Each symbol represents a presidential duty — the charter to ensure the institution’s prosperity, the seal to transact business on the University’s behalf and the building keys to safeguard the University’s campus. The objects were bestowed on Salovey right before he gave his inaugural address in Woolsey Hall on Sunday.
“It’s important to honor the past that has created the foundation for the present,” Highsmith said.
Yesterday’s ceremony also featured the Yale University mace and the Presidential collar — both of which were on display at the Yale University Art Gallery from Sept. 24 through this past Saturday. In his description of the exhibit, Curator John Stuart Gordon called the mace and collar “two of the most potent symbols of the University,” adding that they “embody the authority of the president and the University’s officers.”
During yesterday’s procession, the silver gilt mace — which, according to the website for the inauguration, is 47 inches long and weighs 24 pounds — was carried by University Librarian Susan Gibbons. According to the description of the object available at the exhibit, its makers based the mace on the regal scepter and the medieval battle mace. The mace bears sprigs of laurel, ivy, and oak, symbolizing achievement, knowledge and fortitude, as well as four winged figures representing art, science, law and theology. Each Yale President’s name is engraved on the object’s shaft.
The University commissioned American enamel artist William Harper to create the current presidential collar after the original collar mysteriously disappeared in 1979. The discs on the collar represent Yale College and the graduate and professional schools. The central pendant, made out of rock crystal, bears the University shield in gold and reads “Light and Truth” in both Hebrew and Latin.
The Inauguration Committee proposed the idea for the mace and collar exhibit to the YUAG, whose senior staff deemed it “an ideal contribution to the campus-wide festivities,” said Maura Scanlon, director of public relations at the gallery.
Robin Hirsch, associate costume shop manager at the Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theater, designed and sewed the president’s new robe. She said she modeled the robe after President Levin’s, which in turn was modeled after his predecessor’s. Hirsh said that based on historical evidence, the robe may have changed little during the past 300 years. While the last presidential robe was commissioned from a New York-based company, Highsmith said, it was important that Salovey’s be “homegrown.” The garment, consisting mostly of silk and velvet, took Hirsch three weeks to finish, she said, adding that she sewed most of it by hand.
“It’s a very specific Yale model,” Hirsch said. “It has nothing to do with any other academic robe.”
Highsmith explained that Yale’s academic robes have their roots in the traditions of medieval European universities.
“They wore their robes all the time because the buildings were cold and drafty,” she said. “We don’t have to do that anymore.”
Salovey’s inauguration ceremony was preceded by a procession that started at Yale Law School and ended at Woolsey Hall.