Yale Bulletin and Calendar

May 25, 2001Volume 29, Number 31Three-Week Issue

Yale celebrates 300th Commencement

Yale's 300th Commencement on May 21 brought record-breaking crowds to Old Campus to celebrate the accomplishments of some 3,000 graduating students and 12 honorary degree recipients.

Approximately 20,000 guests streamed onto the site, passing through security checks designed to protect President George W. Bush, one of the University's distinguished guests.

In keeping with tradition, the graduating students processed around the New Haven Green before entering Old Campus with gowns and balloons billowing in the breeze. Students from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies decorated their mortarboards with foliage, and one confused sparrow was spotted attempting to land in the headgear. Many Divinity School students added haloes to the standard-issue regalia, and the students from the School of Medicine had stethoscopes around their necks. Some students -- presumably from Hawaii -- wore leis; others had African kente cloth draped over their shoulders. Scattered through the crowd were Puerto Rican flags and, on a sillier note, "JE sux" balloons.

Bush was one of several world leaders awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the ceremony. Ernesto Zedillo (Ph.D. 1981), past president of Mexico; Patricia Wald (LL.B. 1951), judge on the International Criminal Tribunal; and Robert E. Rubin (LL.B. 1964), former secretary of the U.S. Treasury, also received honorary law degrees. Evelyn Boyd Granville (Ph.D. 1949), the first African-American woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, was given an honorary doctorate in science, as was Nobel laureate Dr. Harold E. Varmus, director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. British philosopher Sir Bernard A.O. Williams received a Doctor of Letters degree. Actor Sam Waterston (B.A. 1962) and dancer Arthur Mitchell were accorded Doctor of Fine Arts degrees, and opera singer Dawn Upshaw was given a Doctor of Music degree. Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History, and business leader Richard Franke (B.A. 1953) were both honored with Doctor of Human Letters degrees.

The Reverend Frederick Jerome Streets, University chaplain, opened the proceedings, saying, "Welcome to Yale's proudest hour. Banners signaling, flags waving, colorful gowns flowing, families beaming, graduates shining, faculty congratulating, weather holding." The sky was indeed gray and the air chilly, but no rain fell until hours after the ceremony was through.

Streets continued, "What better way to celebrate Yale's 300th year than to gather on this historic Old Campus and to give thanks and ask God's blessing upon each of these graduates as they continue their life's journey?" He prayed that the students would "have a spirit of generosity and service as they use their talents and gifts to benefit humankind."

In keeping with tradition, the deans of each school stepped forward, one at a time, and presented their degree candidates to President Richard C. Levin. As they were presented, the students rose en masse and cheered -- none louder than the 1,051 Bachelor of Arts and 225 Bachelor of Science candidates of Yale College, who were introduced by Dean Richard Brodhead. President Levin then conferred the appropriate degrees, using the time-honored phrase, "By the authority vested in me, I confer upon you the bachelor's degrees in Yale College as designated by the dean and admit you to all their rights and responsibilities."

Levin repeated this litany in turn for students in the Schools of Architecture, Art, Divinity, Drama, Music, Nursing, Forestry & Environmental Studies, Management, Divinity, Law, Medicine and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Degrees from the Law School and Physician Associate Program were granted provisionally, since their academic calendars end later than those in other University schools and programs.

Ph.D. degrees were awarded in Latin, recalling medieval European academic tradition, when Latin was the common language of educated people. Even at Yale in its early days, Latin was universally studied. Dean Susan Hockfield, a neurobiologist but not a classical scholar, rehearsed in advance so that the Latin phrases came rolling out smoothly.

The presentation of honorary degrees followed. After receiving his honorary degree, Bush briefly addressed the crowd. Traditionally, there are no speeches at Commencement. However, that tradition has been set aside twice before for sitting presidents -- in 1962 for John F. Kennedy and in 1991 for George H.W. Bush.

As the younger Bush spoke, some audience members held up signs protesting his policies. However, many in the audience responded warmly to the President's disarming style.

"As a student, I tried to keep a low profile," he noted. "It worked. Last year The New York Times interviewed John Morton Blum because the record showed I had taken one of his courses. Casting his mind's eye over the parade of young faces down through the years, Professor Blum said, and I quote, 'I don't have the foggiest recollection of him.'"

After the audience's laughter died down, the President continued in a more solemn tone, "But I remember Professor Blum. And I still recall his dedication and high standards of learning. In my time there were many great professors at Yale. And there still are. They're the ones who keep Yale going after the commencements, after we have all gone our separate ways. I'm not sure I remembered to thank them the last time I was here, but now that I have a second chance, I thank the professors of Yale University."

Summing up his undergraduate years, the President recalled, "I studied hard, I played hard, and I made a lot of lifelong friends." Then he mused, "What stays with you from college is the part of your education you hardly ever notice at the time. It's the expectations and examples around you, the ideals you believe in, and the friends you make .... All universities, at their best, teach that degrees and honors are far from the full measure of life. Nor is that measure taken in wealth or in titles. What matters most are the standards you live by, the consideration you show others and the way you use the gifts you are given."

Speaking directly to the graduates, he said, "Life is ours to live, but not to waste, and ... the greatest rewards are found in the commitments we make with our whole hearts -- to the people we love and to the causes that earn our sacrifice. I hope that each of you will know these rewards. I hope you will find them in your own way and your own time."

In closing, the President said: "Today I visit not only my alma mater, but the city of my birth. My life began just a few blocks from here, but I was raised in West Texas. From there, Yale always seemed a world away, maybe a part of my future. Now it's part of my past, and Yale for me is a source of great pride. I hope that there will come a time for you to return to Yale to say that, and feel as I do today. And I hope you won't wait as long. Congratulations and God bless."

At the ceremony's conclusion, the Right Reverend Victoria Matthews, fellow of the Yale Corporation, delivered the benediction. She prayed: "To the wild enthusiasms of youth, we ask for the gifts of humility and patience that they might in time recognize failure as well as success as a gift, that they might know the gift of wisdom as well as the attainment of knowledge, that their life pursuit might be more of joy and giving than simply accomplishment and power .... And so, to God's mercy, we commit this class."

Then, as the Yale University Concert Band took up the strains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (more widely known as the theme music from "2001, a Space Odyssey"), the Harkness Towner carillon bells pealed, and 3,000 brand-new Yale alumni, the Class of 2001, streamed out of Old Campus to continue the celebration on a smaller scale at dinners presented by their schools and residential colleges.

-- By Gila Reinstein

C O M M E N C E M E N T2 0 0 1


Baccalaureate Address

Honorary Degrees

Senior Class Day

Teaching Prizes

Scholastic Prizes

David Everett Chantler Prize

Elliott and Mallory Athletic Awards

Robert E. Lewis Award for Intramural Sports

Roosevelt L. Thompson Prize

William H. McKim Prize

Other Undergraduate Awards and Honors

Graduate Student Awards and Honors

Wilbur Cross Medals


Yale Celebrates 300th Commencement

Festival to feature everything from opera to aerial dancers

Alumni returning to campus for reunion weekends


Exhibit recalls Snowdon's 'irreverent' photographic visions

British Art Center hosting talks, trips, music during International Festival

International Festival of Arts and Ideas: Events on Campus

International Festival of Arts and Ideas: Tours


Outreach program bringing seniors to the Peabody

Campus Notes

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