Ben Raab

Students, families and administrators gathered on Old Campus Sunday for Yale College’s 2024 Baccalaureate Ceremony and Class Day. 

At the Baccalaureate Ceremony, University Chaplain Maytal Saltiel offered an opening prayer, followed by student-led prayers of various faiths and a hymn. Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis read a reading of the poem “Ithaca” by Constantine Cavafy and the Yale Glee Club performed a rendition of “Alleluia” by Randall Thompson.

In his Baccalaureate Address, University President Peter Salovey drew on his upbringing in a culturally Jewish home and early memories of the Civil Rights movement — in particular Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Selma alongside Rabbi Everett Gendler — to highlight the virtues of “love and compassion.” 

Citing obstacles such as climate change and racial injustice, and mentioning nationwide surges in antisemitism and Islamophobia, Salovey posed the audience with the challenge of “channeling rage into a positive, constructive force.”

“Without anger, we would be bereft of the fuel necessary to fight against prejudice and violence around the globe,” Salovey said. “So what then, are the grounds that support the translation of outrage into compassion?”

Salovey described a moment in 1963 in which Yale law student and civil rights activist Pauli Murray defended Alabama governor George Wallace’s right to speak at Yale despite his segregationist views and amid pressure from Yale’s president and the New Haven mayor to disinvite Wallace. This approach, Salovey said, emphasized “redemption over retribution.” 

“It is not enough to retreat into silos alongside those who are already inclined to agree with us,” Salovey said. “By daring to choose love and compassion over rage and hate, we can bring about the meaningful, sustainable changes needed in society.”

Salovey was interrupted by boos and cries of “shame” by groups of pro-Palestinian student demonstrators in the crowd, who have expressed vocal criticism of the University in recent weeks for its decision not to divest from weapons manufacturers. 

“I hear you,” Salovey said to the demonstrators, raising his hand. “Let’s get started together.”

He ended his speech with an ode to his Hebrew-speaking grandfather, saying “lehitraot,” a phrase that means “goodbye for now, see you again soon.”

Salovey mentioned that like the class of 2024, he also graduated as his University president was “completing his service” and wondered what his president would offer for his “final words.” Salovey’s time as president of the University is set to end on June 30, though his successor has not yet been named. 

At Class Day, which took place three hours later, students arrived back on Old Campus wearing the ceremony’s traditional funny hats. Some students donned hats with Palestinian flags or arrived wearing Palestinian keffiyeh scarves. 

United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy MED ’03 MBA ’03 delivered the annual class day address, speaking on his journey to becoming Surgeon General and experience battling feelings of loneliness and unhappiness. He emphasized the value of fostering strong interpersonal relationships as a means of leading a fulfilling life.

“Be present, be real, show up,” Murthy told the crowd. “These are the keys to nurturing the relationships that will sustain you for the rest of your life.”

Following Murthy’s address, students and administrators took turns on stage offering remarks and conferring student prizes. During the conferral of student prizes, some students stood up and turned to parents and family members in the audience with handmade banners that read slogans like “2024 imagines a free Palestine” or “Yale divest.”

Towards the end of the ceremony, during a student-led segment of the ceremony dedicated to revisiting class memories, Alanah Armstead ’24 urged the audience to remember that “there are no graduations in Gaza, in Palestine, for students and children we will never meet.” 

Armstead, one of three speakers on stage, ended her address by calling out “free, free Palestine,” which drew a response from some students in the crowd. Chants of “free Palestine” continued uninterrupted in the student section for about 45 seconds before the next student speaker began their remarks.

Other chants of “USA” broke out in the student section, as well as some boos in the family seating area. Administrators and event staff stood idly and waited for chants to subside. Earlier in the day, a statement regarding campus free expression policies had been played on the loudspeaker and displayed on the video board. 

“Interfering with a speaker’s ability to speak and the audience’s ability to hear and see is not consistent with the university free expression policy,” the statement read. 

May 20 will mark the University’s 323rd annual Commencement Ceremony. 

Correction, May 20: A previous version of this story misspelled Vivek Murthy’s name. His last name is Murthy, not Murphy, and the story has been updated to reflect this.

Ben Raab covers faculty and academics at Yale and writes about the Yale men's basketball team. Originally from New York City, Ben is a sophomore in Pierson college pursuing a double major in history and political science.