Yale began the 317th Commencement celebrations with a traditional Baccalaureate service for graduating seniors and their families in Woolsey Hall on Saturday afternoon.
University Chaplain Sharon Kugler opened the ceremony with a prayer, after which four students read passages from various religious texts. Yale College Dean Marvin Chun and University President Peter Salovey then addressed the attendees, encouraging graduates to remain open-minded and to engage with a wide array of people, regardless of their beliefs.
“Bring to that world all that your Yale education has given you: the ability to engage critically even while listening respectfully; to respond creatively to challenges and obstacles; to embrace your responsibilities while finding happiness,” Salovey said.
Following the religious portion of the service, Chun took the stage to share writings by the namesakes of the two new residential colleges — Pauli Murray LAW ’65 and Benjamin Franklin — and by Grace Hopper GRD ’34, who in 2017 replaced John C. Calhoun, class of 1804, as the namesake of Calhoun College.
Chun discussed the figures’ legacies in their respective fields and read passages in which they discussed lessons they learned over the course of their lives — focusing on their values, their activism and their work to promote inclusion.
“Here are my favorite [passages], which I offer to the ten of you who did not take Professor Laurie Santos’ class,” Chun joked, referring to Yale’s popular course on happiness, Psychology and the Good Life.
Salovey’s address built on the themes Chun introduced, beginning with a passage from an article Murray wrote in 1945 for the magazine Common Ground, in which she advocated “draw[ing] a larger circle” in response to people who tried to draw a circle that would exclude her.
Salovey encouraged graduates to include people with different opinions in their circles throughout their lives. He cited as an example the renowned Yale political science professor Robert Dahl, who supervised a doctoral dissertation that directly challenged his own ideas.
Such open-mindedness represents an antidote to political polarization, Salovey said. He added that solving “our greatest challenges as a society” — climate change, poverty, insecurity and violence — requires engagement with ideological opponents.
The University president went on to highlight the importance of having as many different circles as possible, encouraging graduates to pursue interests and passions outside of their jobs. As an example, he spoke of his well-known love for bluegrass music and shared his experiences playing with the Professors of Bluegrass band.
Salovey concluded his speech by returning to Murray. William Beinecke ’36, a leader in corporate America and Yale donor who died earlier this year, used to write letters to Murray asking her opinion on race and segregation, Salovey said. She always responded, he added, and the two had conversations “despite differences in gender, family background, race, class and much more.”
“Draw many circles; make them large in all kinds of ways,” Salovey said. “You will find life richer, fuller, and more meaningful, and you will bring to the world the empathy and understanding we so desperately need.”
The Baccalaureate service takes place three times over the course of the Commencement weekend, with two more ceremonies scheduled for 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 will give the annual Class Day speech on Old Campus at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
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