Students, faculty and administrators from Yale College and the University’s graduate and professional schools convened on Old Campus for Yale’s 314th Commencement Ceremony.
On Monday, University President Peter Salovey conferred a total of 3,566 degrees, with 1,306 granted for undergraduates and 239 “provisional degrees,” which are awarded to students who have yet to complete their course of study. The event, which occurred under overcast skies, included an academic procession and several ceremonial customs, most notably the formal presentation of candidates by the deans of each school. The University also awarded nine honorary degrees at the event, including a doctorate of social science for Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen GRD ’71.
In his first Commencement at the helm of Yale College, Dean Jonathan Holloway asked Salovey to formally confer upon Yale College seniors 919 Bachelor of Arts and 371 Bachelor of Science degrees. This was followed by a resounding cheer, which Holloway had practiced with the Yale College students at Class Day one day earlier.
“By the authority vested in me, I confer upon you the bachelor’s degrees in Yale College as designated by the dean and admit you to all their rights and responsibilities,” Salovey said, following Holloway’s presentation.
Across Old Campus, students showed pride for their respective schools. Morse College students waved red axes, School of Forestry students decorated their hats with flowers and students of the School of Nursing even celebrated by shooting confetti and silly string in the air.
Though Commencement ceremonies at other schools typically involve the distribution of diplomas, Salovey presented representative degrees to student marshals from each of the residential colleges and schools. The physical diplomas for graduates were given at separate school- or residential college-specific events across the University shortly following Monday’s ceremony.
The conferring of degrees began with an invocation by University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and ended with the singing of Psalm LXV, “Thy praise alone,” a hymn that has been sung at each Commencement since 1718.
After the closing of the first part of the ceremony, Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak began the presentation of honorary degrees — the highest honors conferred by the University — to recognize nine individuals who have demonstrated excellence in fields ranging from engineering and technology to humanities.
“The nine men and women we honor this morning serve as examples to you, our graduates, to aspire to excellence and value those elements of human character that they embody: creativity, curiosity, discipline, integrity and a passion for social justice,” Salovey said. “Their presence here also honors you who graduate today and all of us who are here to salute you.”
Among the recipients were Yellen and entrepreneur Elon Musk. Yellen was awarded the doctorate of social science, while Musk received a doctorate of engineering and technology. Yellen, who was nominated the 15th chair of the federal bank in 2013, is the first woman to hold the position in the 100-year history of the institution.
The University recognizes Yellen as an esteemed economist and a dedicated public servant, Salovey said.
“With wisdom, clarity and calm,” he said to Yellen. “You steer a prudent financial course for our country.”
Musk, who, at 43, was the youngest among the honorary degree recipients this year, has started several companies including PayPal — a worldwide online payments system — and Tesla Motors — an automotive company.
Salovey commended Musk’s vision to innovate transportation both on earth and beyond through his company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).
“You have the rare gift of imagining the impossible and making it happen,” Salovey said to Musk. “For your entrepreneurial spirit and your creative genius, we bestow upon you the doctorate of engineering and technology.”
Other recipients of the honor were Jeffrey Friedman, Dean Kamen, Angelique Kidjo, Larry Kramer ’57, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Peter Schultz and Gayatri Spivak. Kamen, an inventor and entrepreneur who holds more than 440 patents, was awarded the second doctorate of engineering and technology alongside Musk. Salovey credited Kamen with advocating for science education and “inventing inventors” through his organization For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), which serves over 400,000 young students.
Kramer, a playwright and LGBT rights activist whose play “The Normal Heart” was recently adapted for film, was awarded a doctorate of humane letters. In 2001, Kramer launched the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale, a five-year initiative that bolstered the University’s LGBT studies programming through visiting lectures and additions to Yale’s library collections. In the same year, Kramer also donated his papers to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Kidjo, who was awarded the doctorate of music for her passion for the fine arts and commitment to activism, stood to receive her honorary degree as music played over the speaker system at the event.
“Through songs and singing, with artistry and advocacy, you have become known as one of the world’s great voices of Africa,” Salovey said to Kidjo. “You sing from the soul and invoke the conscience.”
Kidjo’s music combines African styles with funk, jazz, gospel and Latin beats. She is also a Yale Poynter Fellow.
Yale’s 314th Commencement concluded with a benediction by Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling and a recessional performed by the Yale University Concert Band.
“We ask that we continue to expand the capacities of these graduates, give them a keen sense of curiosity and a creative imagination, the courage to fail and the will to succeed, a heart of compassion and the resolve to transform,” Sterling said. “And above all, for these graduates who have the potential to change our future and for this special place that we know as Yale that unites our past, our present and our hope for the future.”