Logan Howard

Under normal circumstances, graduating seniors gather on Old Campus, clad in zany headwear and surrounded by newly-planted tulips, to partake in the storied traditions that form Class Day. This year, the event was not one day, but seven. The week of reflections and remarks from members of the class of 2020, faculty and alumni culminated with a speech from Jean Bennett ’76 on Sunday afternoon. 

Seniors received a Class Day care package — including tassels, a class anthology and a Yale pin, among other items — earlier this week. The Class Day committee, composed of five seniors — Sarah Geach ’20, Michelle Hu ’20, Ananya Indwar ’20, Nathan Isaacs ’20 and Calvin Schwartzberg ’20 — encouraged graduates to make masks for their communities rather than the hats that normally characterize the celebration. The past six days have featured remarks from students, faculty members and alumni. On the seventh, Bennett urged graduates to seize the current moment as an opportunity for unity and progress.

“We are all now faced with an opportunity for reflection,” Bennett said. “The world has been so divided, but for once our stress is the same stress — something that binds us together. 

“This terrible experience has created new opportunities and your class will shape things to come. This event will galvanize you all to put your talents, expertise, imagination and passions to good use. You have a huge opportunity to reset — to reengineer our world.” 

Bennett is a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Her research into retinal diseases led her to develop Luxturna — a gene therapy to treat Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare heritable disease that often results in blindness. Luxturna was the first gene therapy ever approved by the Federal Drug Administration for use in humans.

Bennett grew up in New Haven, toured with the Yale Symphony Orchestra in high school and worked in the University’s biology labs before enrolling as an undergraduate. Reflecting on her time in the Elm City, Bennett recalled anti-Vietnam war movements, the Black Panther trials and a 1:50 ratio of women to men in the sciences. 

She drew a connection between researching HIV/AIDS as a Yalie and today’s global scientific movement to understand SARS-COV-2. 

“We do not want to have a future overshadowed by coronavirus,” Bennett said. “I know that [at] some point we will be able to get back to the projects we put on hold. In the meantime, each of us can try to figure out how to apply our skill the best or to do what we can to contribute.” 

The Sunday ceremony closed with a performance of “Bright College Years” by the Yale Bands and Glee Club.

In the days leading up to Bennett’s speech, seniors offered their thoughts about the past four years. Joy Qiu ’20 shared a serious reflection on Tuesday, challenging the idea that all Yale students share fundamental parts of their college experience — and the idea that a strong common bond is a positive notion.

“The alternative to believing that we share nothing in common would be to believe that Yale is so seductive that four years here is enough to hammer parts of our identities into shapes completely indistinguishable from one another,” Qiu said. 

In a comedic reflection the following day, Simon Fraser ’20 and Oscar Lopez ’20 congratulated their classmates on something they do all share: “the ugliest diploma in America.” 

“We left Yale too early and we had different Yale experiences,” Lopez said. “Some of us never had the tuna tartar at Harvest.” 

“And some of us still think Shades of Yale is a Facebook group for overhead insults on campus,” Fraser responded. 

The next several days featured recreations of traditional Old Campus activities — such as Vincent Vaughns’s ’20 Ivy Ode, “An Ode to Fight,” delivered with an ivy plant in the frame. The class of 2020 will plant their sprig of ivy on Old Campus when it is safe to return. Dean Marvin Chun saluted graduating seniors on their accomplishments, seniors submitted photos and memories from the past four years for a class slideshow and scores of alumni offered a toast to the class of 2020 in video form. 

The University is planning to host an in-person celebration of the graduates at a later date.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu

Correction, May 17: A previous version of this article misspelled Joy Qiu’s last name. The article has been updated to correct this.