Sunlight filtered through the Old Campus trees as students, faculty and administrators from Yale College and the University’s graduate and professional schools gathered for Yale’s 315th Commencement Ceremony May 23.
University President Peter Salovey formally conferred a total of 3,628 degrees, including 1,342 degrees granted to undergraduates. The event featured an academic procession and a number of ceremonial customs, including the presentation of candidates for degrees by the deans of each school. Yale also awarded nine honorary degrees at the event. Recipients included former Dallas Cowboys professional football player Calvin Hill ’69, acclaimed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami and the innovative chef and restaurateur Alice Waters.
“We gather to recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of all of you who have worked so hard to complete your programs of study,” Salovey told graduates Monday morning. “We salute your effort, your diligence, your talent and your intellect. We also join you in expressing gratitude for all who have supported you in these endeavors — your families and friends, teachers and other members of the Yale community.”
While Commencement ceremonies at other institutions typically involve the distribution of diplomas, Salovey presented symbolic degrees to student marshals from each of the residential colleges and schools. Graduates received their physical diplomas at separate school- or residential college-specific events across the University shortly following Monday’s ceremony. Of Yale College graduates, 888 received a Bachelor of Arts and 454 received a Bachelor of Science degree.
Although students did not wear the colorful and creative hats they donned for the Class Day ceremony Sunday afternoon, graduates of the Class of 2016 show their affiliations in other fashions. Yellow suns, part of the Pierson College crest, beamed from the tops of Piersonites’ caps, while Saybrook students attached clusters of grapes to their tassels and Morse residents waved red and blue foam axes in the air. Polar bears, tree branches and other elements of the natural world were spotted atop the caps of students from the School of Forestry, while School of Nursing students celebrated with silly string and party poppers.
The presentation of candidates for degrees began with an invocation from University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and closed with the singing of “Psalm LXV: Thy praise alone,” a hymn which has been sung each year since the University’s first Commencement in 1718.
Salovey and University Provost Benjamin Polak then presented nine individuals with honorary degrees — considered the highest honor conferred by the University — to recognize them for excellence in fields ranging from engineering and technology to the humanities.
“The nine individuals we honor this morning serve as examples to you, our graduates, to encourage you to aspire to excellence and to 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.”
“You are a Yale legend,” Salovey told Hill, citing the “dazzling” contributions Hill made as a quarterback and halfback to lead Yale to two consecutive Ivy League championships during his time as an undergraduate history major. Hill, who became the first Ivy League player chosen in the first round of a National Football League draft, also helped to establish the Calvin Hill Daycare Center for Yale and New Haven.
“On the field and off, leadership, character and service have been the hallmarks of your life,” Salovey said to Hill. “You are also first-round for us as an athlete and humanitarian.”
Waters, the founder of the famed California restaurant Chez Panisse, received a doctorate of humane letters. Waters partnered with Yale in 2003 to kickstart the Yale Sustainable Food Project, which ran a menu at Berkeley College in the mid-2000s that brought the dining hall a sterling reputation. Calling Waters a “chef, educator, artist and entrepreneur,” Salovey praised her for pushing an understanding of the importance of food in environmental stewardship, health and ethics.
Murakami, whom Salovey described as the “most widely-read Japanese novelist of your generation,” was awarded a doctorate of letters. Salovey commended Murakami for the 11 million copies his 1987 novel “Norwegian Wood” sold in Japan alone.
“In your books, you create surreal universes of fantasy, dream, science fiction and allegory, giving voice to the alienation and absurdity of postmodern existence,” Salovey told Murakami.
Murakami, who has also authored acclaimed novels such as “Kafka on the Shore” and “1Q84,” is one of two non-American awardees. The other is Rosalie Silberman Abella, who became the first Jewish woman to sit on the Canadian Supreme Court in 2004. Polak presented her with a doctorate of law, and Salovey praised her as a “champion of the vulnerable” and an “inspiration for everyone.”
Alongside Abella, Hill, Murakami and Waters, the other recipients were Jennifer Doudna, Audra McDonald, Arnold Rampersad, David Saperstein and George C. Wolfe.
These distinguished individuals are accomplished in the fields of chemistry and biology, theater and the literary arts, public and law. They include the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, a famed biographer and two Tony Award winners.
Salovey praised Doudna — a former Yale professor who earned a doctorate of science — for her breakthrough work in revolutionizing the medical sciences, creating a deeper understanding of the building blocks of life and discovering how to edit genomes “with surgical precision.”
McDonald, the record holder for most Tonys won by any performer, received a doctorate of music for her work as an actress and singer and her advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community alike.
The University’s 315th Commencement closed with the hymn “Oh God, beneath thy guiding hand,” a benediction from Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling and a recessional performed by the Yale Concert Band.
“As a community, we ask you to bless these graduates with gratitude, courage and vision,” Sterling said.
Noah Daponte-Smith contributed reporting.