On Saturday afternoon, graduating seniors, accompanied by their families and University administrators, gathered in Woolsey Hall to begin the 135th Commencement celebrations with the Baccalaureate service.
University President Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, in their addresses, encouraged the class of 2016 to remain open-minded and engage with disparate viewpoints willingly and enthusiastically, and to reflect on their time at Yale as an important learning tool for the future.
Following opening prayers from University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and readings conducted by a selection of students, Holloway asked the attendants to take a deep breath, slowly exhale and immerse themselves in the moment. He called the moment “a bookend to the summer of 2012” when seniors showed up in the same hall for their Convocation.
“You might have asked, ‘My time at Yale is coming to a close, have I done enough?’ or maybe, ‘my time at Yale is coming to a close, what do I do next?’” Holloway posed the questions to the Class of 2016. “These are big questions, perhaps too big to answer today, so let’s reframe this moment and narrow the scope. What are you going to do today? What is your plan for this wild and precious day? On this day of endings and beginnings, let us suggest an answer to this question.”
Breaking from the traditional dean’s address, where the dean presents a selection of readings to the graduating seniors, Holloway presented a song to the class of 2016. His talk, which focused on the importance of the redemptive power of love, wove the 1967 Beatles song “All You Need Is Love” throughout. He sang several bars of the song at two different points, pausing for cheers when the audience applauded his ability to hit a high note.
The light hearted singing led to a more serious theme: the value of love. Holloway also read from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day,” pointing out the ability of love to change people and capturing the questions seniors often have regarding the endings and beginnings that come with graduation. He also reflected on Bryan Stevenson’s book “Just Mercy,” interpreting it as a meditation on the human need to offer love.
“On this wild and precious day, leave this place knowing that you are equipped to ask challenging questions, that you are prepared to listen to difficult answers, that you have everything you need to do the hard work to navigate the rough and difficult terrain between the two,” Holloway said. “As you do this work, you will spread your light and your truth to a world that is in desperate need of love.”
Salovey’s address continued the theme of love and community, describing to the graduating seniors what he believes to be the three shared obligations of community citizenship: speaking one’s own mind fully, listening to others and pursuing common ground.
These three obligations, he said, are symbiotic — each one cannot exist without the other two. The strongest and most effective advocates, Salovey argued, do not demonize their opponents or oversimplify their arguments: They maintain their own convictions and expand their viewpoints while respecting others’ concerns.
Salovey spoke of his personal experience. During his years at Yale, Salovey said, he has invariably encountered individuals with different views. It is immensely difficult to hear different opinions, especially when one find others’ views disturbing or irrelevant. He added that people tend to gravitate toward like-minded people and resonate with their own beliefs, and that the boom of social media only serve to reinforce these tendencies.
He stated the importance of truly listening to what others say, and that the most memorable ideas are those that were most difficult to initially grasp or accept. Highlighting the importance of the principle of charity and interpretation, Salovey said the graduating seniors should interpret an opposing view in its strongest and most viable form because doing so increases the capacity into entering into productive dialogue and opens the real possibility of changing minds.
Therefore, Salovey said, the search for common ground provides a basis for moving forward.
“Not to pursue common ground, however, is fatal to a community and to progress,” he said. “I hope you share my anxiety about the degree to which we have seen this recently, nationally and internationally. To find common ground does not mean surrendering your principles, but it does mean seeking creative compromise.”
He closed by congratulating the graduating seniors, which was followed by a religious benediction. The Baccalaureate service occurs three times throughout the weekend, dividing the class of 2016 by residential college. Services will also take place Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.