Commencement through the years
Yale’s 321st commencement to returned to tradition after two ceremonies changed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
For the Class of 2022, Yale’s 321st commencement ceremony offers a return to normalcy and tradition.
The ceremony is only the second in four years to be held in-person, and for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, family members and guests will be allowed to attend if fully vaccinated.
“I look forward to celebrating our 2022 graduates in May, and to welcoming their families and guests to Yale’s 321st commencement,” Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews told the News. “Although some adjustments will be required to ensure everyone’s health and safety, we are enthusiastic about congratulating graduates on their extraordinary accomplishments with traditional ceremonies and events for the first time since 2019.”
Due to COVID restrictions, guests were prohibited from visiting during commencement weekend 2021, which allowed graduating seniors to gather in-person for their commencement ceremony, but saw remote Class Day exercises and a virtual address by University President Peter Salovey.
“This has been an academic year unlike any other,” Yale University President Peter Salovey wrote in an email to the Class of 2021, “Our celebrations will include graduating students who are studying on campus or remotely this year; however, we regret that we will not be able to invite guests to campus.”
Students in the Class of 2020 were over halfway through their senior year when COVID-19 led Yale to pause on-campus activities. Classes for the remainder of the semester, finals and commencement were moved entirely online with the promise that the class be invited to return to campus and celebrate in-person with an Alumni Ceremony when public health and safety conditions permitted.
“Although your celebration is necessarily and sadly delayed,” Goff-Crews wrote in an email to the members of the Class of 2020, “you have earned the opportunity to wear your cap and gown, process through campus and Yale’s historic gates, receive congratulations from your professors, and celebrate with your family, friends, and classmates.”
The decision to invite the Class of 2020 back and hold a more traditional commencement ceremony for the Class of 2022 reflect improvements in health and safety concerns since the University halted in-person operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
“My heart is so full to look at you,” said Yale University Chaplain Sharon M.K. Kugler during a prayer to begin the Alumni ceremony on Old Campus.
COVID-19 forced commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 to have pre-recorded Chaplin blessings, and this year’s commencement will be the first with an-in person chaplain blessing since 2019.
“We are cautiously optimistic that we can get back to the traditional framework for commencement,” Director of University Events Heather Calabrese told the News in February.
However, a few aspects of the 321st commencement remain different from commencement 2019. Unlike for the Class of 2019, the Baccalaureate ceremony traditionally held in Woolsey Hall has been moved outdoors to Old Campus, and the number of “walkers” — students participating in commencement celebrations with a class that they are not formally graduating with — will be greater than ever before because of the number of students who opted to take leaves of absences.
Despite these changes, class day, the tradition beginning in the 19th century with graduates gathering in a circle on Old Campus to share memories of their time at Yale, will make a full return to normal after two years online.
Graduates will gather in the traditional academic gowns and creative headgear of their choosing to celebrate the awarding of academic, artistic, and athletic prizes, speeches given by members of the graduating class, a film reflecting on the graduating class’s four years at Yale, and an address by a notable speaker.
Class Day speakers in years passed have included writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie GRD ’08 in 2019, gene therapy pioneer Jean Bennett ’76 in 2020, and songwriter Robert Lopez ’97 in 2021. This year’s Class Day speaker will be Reshma Saujani LAW ’02, Girls Who Code founder and lauded advocate of women’s economic and academic empowerment.
Inspired by the Class of 2022’s “resilience, bravery, and determination,” Saujani told the News, “it is an honor to celebrate this milestone with [the Class of 2022].”
The first Commencement of the Collegiate School was held on September 16, 1702 in Saybrook, Connecticut.