Logan Howard

Even as the Yale community remains scattered across the world, members of the class of 2020 and their families gathered together online for a virtual conferral of degrees on Monday morning.

Speaking in front of a virtual background of Sterling Memorial Library, University President Peter Salovey addressed graduates on the day of what would have been the University’s 319th commencement ceremony. He told graduates the biblical story of the Good Samaritan — a man who stops and helps another suffering man when others pass him by — and compared the tale to current efforts to self-isolate and innovate to help strangers during the pandemic. Acknowledging the months of missed games, recitals and time with friends, Salovey added that despite “disappointment and hardship,” the class of 2020 has remained committed to their studies and has continued to “invent, imagine and create.”

“These are no ordinary times,” Salovey said. “The world needs each of you, prepared to tackle whatever challenges come your way. I am confident, with eyes open and hearts full of compassion, you will take Yale’s mission of light and truth to neighbors near and far.”

Salovey also talked about Yale students who are currently working in the fight against coronavirus. Chaney Kalinich ’19, he said, currently volunteers with the New Haven Medical Reserve Corps, working with vulnerable residents of the Elm City while she studies for her Masters of Public Health. Another group of current undergraduates, he added, began a company to connect senior citizens with phones and other devices so that they can attend doctors’ appointments virtually.

Salovey mentioned these same sentiments in a Monday morning email sent to the Yale community, in which he acknowledged the Class of 2020’s accomplishments and wrote that he looked forward to an in-person celebration. 

“Until we see one another again on campus, know that I am immensely proud of you and that faculty and staff across the university are thinking of you on this joyous day,” Salovey wrote. “Congratulations to all our 2020 graduates!”

According to Yale News, the date and scale of an in-person graduation ceremony will depend on city, state and federal regulations and guidelines. 

In lieu of the traditional pomp and circumstance surrounding a Yale graduation, Salovey ceremonially conferred upon the class of 2020 its degrees in a short video accompanying his graduation address. Salovey lamented that he could not laud this year’s recipients of honorary degrees in their “academic hoods,” but that online, the Yale community could recognize these individuals’ “art, song, scholarship and innovation.” 

The nine honorary degrees conferred during Monday’s ceremony ranged from Doctors of Music to a Doctor of Engineering and Technology. Honorees included four-time Grammy winner and opera singer Renee Fleming, Costa Rican diplomat and Former Executive Secretary Of The United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change Christiana Figueres and Nobel Prize-winning immunotherapy researcher Jim Allison. Also recognized were playwright Paula Vogel, jazz musician Herbie Hancock, set designer Ming Cho Lee, computer scientist Michael I. Jordan, evolutionary geneticist Svante Pääbo and Chinese legal scholar Jerome Alan Cohen ’51, LAW ’55.

Also featured in the commencement suite of virtual addresses was University Chaplain Sharon Kugler’s blessing for the class of 2020.

“Bless us as we seek to reimagine a world made better by the considerable gifts we will now bring to it,” Kugler interceded.

The Yale 2020 website also houses congratulatory addresses from various cultural centers and academic departments.

To enliven the virtual ceremony, attendees could print out posters reading “Congratulations Yale 2020.”

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu