Class Day Speaker Eleanor Holmes Norton GRD ’63 LAW ’64 encouraged the Class of 2005 on May 22 to look beyond simple answers to difficult questions while working for social change.
Norton’s speech was one of many events and activities scheduled for Class Day, which featured baccalaureate celebrations, award presentations and the annual Commencement Ball. Thousands gathered on Old Campus Sunday afternoon, ducking under dripping umbrellas, to join in the traditional festivities and to hear Norton speak.
During her speech, Norton said the 1,292 soon-to-be graduates should not accept previous generations’ standards for society.
“As you leave Yale today, I hope that you will conclude not that the world is yours but that the world that receives you is not good enough for you,” Norton said.
Norton, an eight-term delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the District of Columbia, is known for her work in civil rights and advocacy for full voting representation for D.C. residents.
During her speech, Norton, a Democrat, highlighted the current controversy surrounding congressional filibuster rules as a situation requiring open-mindedness. Although the filibuster has historically been used to curtail civil rights, Norton said, she recently has voiced public support for the filibuster as a means of protecting minority views.
“Only when race was no longer the single motivating issue for the filibuster was it seen as what it has always been,” she said.
Student reaction to Norton’s speech was mixed. While some graduating seniors said they found the congresswoman’s words inspiring, others said her message was not relevant for the occasion.
Matthew Craig ’05 said the speech was inappropriate for Class Day.
“I thought it was very politically charged, and she spent more time focusing on her own point of view than on providing the class with advice to go forth with,” he said.
Other students said they were irked by a slip-up in Norton’s speech.
“People were skeptical of her at first, and then when she said 2000 instead of 2005 twice at the beginning of her speech, it kind of turned everyone off more,” Sander Daniels ’05 said.
Although many students were not familiar with Norton before Class Day, some said they were impressed by her ideas.
“I definitely had no idea who she was before today, but she dealt with that subject well in her speech,” Colman Lynch ’05 said. “She had a good, positive message for us as we are heading out into the real world.”
Earlier in the day, Yale President Richard Levin delivered a similar message to graduating seniors during the last of his three baccalaureate addresses this weekend. He urged students to get involved in civic activities and improve the substance of public discourse.
“I want to urge you to take a role in public life, to take responsibility as citizens in a world that has changed dramatically in the short time you have been here,” he said. “Insist on an end to oversimplification and polarization. Write letters, join organizations that advocate for your beliefs, participate in local politics, and ï¿½ use the critical faculties you have developed here to raise the level of discussion.”
Prizes for teaching, sportsmanship and academic excellence were awarded later in the afternoon. After Norton’s speech, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey presented the Yale College Prizes for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching and the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College. Graduating seniors were also presented with awards for academics, sportsmanship and public service.