Yale Bulletin and Calendar

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

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton waves to the audience on Senior Class Day.

Senior Class Day

As members of Yale's 300th graduating class were gathered on a sun-filled Old Campus on May 20, they were challenged by former First Lady and now U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) to rise above a "silent conspiracy of cynicism, indifference and alienation" and to "dare to compete, dare to care, dare to dream and dare to love."

Clinton, a 1973 alumnus of the Law School, spoke to the 1,337 soon-to-be graduates, their families and friends during Class Day festivities. She told the seniors that while she was thinking about running for senator, she heeded the same advice that she was giving them. At a function in a New York City school promoting an HBO special on women in sports, a female athlete encouraged her controversial run for office by saying, "Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton, dare to compete."

"I hope that you will dare to compete," she told the students. "And by that I don't mean the kind of cut-throat competition that is too often characterized by what's driving America today. I mean that small, still voice inside which says to you, 'You can do this, you can take this risk, you can take this next step.'"

Noting in her address that some have called today's college-age students "the generation of choice," Clinton told the seniors that they have grown up "choosing among alternatives that either were not imagined, created or available to people in prior generations.

"You have been invested with far more personal power to customize your life, to make more free choices about how to live than was ever thought possible," she continued. She praised the students for many of the decisions they and their peers have made, noting that the rates of drug use, teen pregnancy, criminal arrest and drunk-driving deaths have gone down, while involvement in community service and religious activities has increased. She also applauded the efforts of the many Yale undergraduates who were active in community service, and gave special thanks to those who have advocated on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS around the globe.

"You have dared to care," she told the students, beseeching them to continue in such endeavors. "Dare to care enough, to fight for equal justice for all, equal pay for women, against hate crimes and bigotry. Dare to care about public schools without qualified teachers or adequate resources; dare to care about protecting our environment; dare to care about the 10 million children in our country who lack health insurance still. Dare to care about the 1.5 million children who have a parent in jail, the seven million people who suffer from HIV/AIDS."

Saying that while she understands those who believe they can accomplish more for the nation and the world by volunteering in their own communities than they could by becoming involved in politics, the senator told the students that disconnection from the political process is "a personal copout and a national peril." To bring home that message, she cited some examples of important advances made with government support.

"Political conditions maximize the conditions for individual opportunity and responsibility. AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps exist because of political decisions," explained Clinton. "Our air, water, land and food will be clean and safe -- or not -- because of political decisions. Our ability to cure diseases or log on to the internet have been advanced because of politically determined investments. Ethnic cleansing in Kosovo ended because of political leadership. Your parents and grandparents traveled here by means of government-built and subsidized transportation systems. Many used GI bills or government loans, as I did, to attend college.

"Now I could, as you might guess, go on with a longer list, but the point is to remind us all that government is us, and each generation has to stake its claim," Clinton stressed. "And as stakeholders, you will have to decide whether or not to make the choice to participate."

Clinton cautioned the seniors that "it is hard and messy bringing change in a democracy," and that they will sometimes experience hardship and failure along their course. "You will have setbacks and you'll experience difficult disappointments," she told the Class of 2001. "You'll be slowed down and sometimes the breath will just be knocked out of you. But if you carry with you the values and beliefs that you can make a difference in your own life, first and foremost, and then in the lives of others, you can get back up; you can keep going."

The former First Lady recalled how during her senatorial campaign, she was often reminded of the daring spirit of American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who, at great personal risk, helped bring hundreds of Southern slaves to safety in the North. Tubman, Clinton said, told the slaves that even if they heard shouts, gunfire or chasing dogs behind them, they had to move ahead in pursuit of freedom.

"Those are not the risks we face," she said of the slaves' dangerous hurdles. "It's more the silence and apathy and indifference that dogs our heels."

Clinton concluded her speech by telling the Yale students that her advice to them is the same advice she plans to pass on to her daughter, Chelsea, who will graduate next month from Stanford University. In fact, she pointed out, her Class Day plea for committed engagement in the public sphere is not unlike the exhortation she made as the speaker at her own graduation from Wellesley College, where, Clinton said, she called upon her classmates to never underestimate their power to affect change.

"The goal of education should be human liberation and the freedom to practice with all the skill of our being the art of the possible," Clinton told her Yale audience. "For, after all, our fate is to be free to choose -- competition over apathy, caring over indifference, vision over myopia and love over hate."

Headgear and hair

Clinton's speech was one highlight of a day for seniors that began in the morning with President Levin's Baccalaureate Address in Woolsey Hall. The afternoon Class Day ceremony officially began with the procession of seniors onto the Old Campus dressed in their graduation gowns and -- as is the Class Day custom -- wearing headgear of their choice. While some students opt for the sensible -- baseball caps or straw hats -- others celebrate Class Day by donning outlandish creations of their own to make a personal statement. Peacock feathers, a plastic pink flamingo, Viking helmets, wizards' hats, a stuffed "Big Bird" on a fishing pole, a "Cat in the Hat" hat and a giant Pikachu (Pokemon character) were among the students' choices.

At the start of her Class Day address, Clinton told her audience that she had thought about joining in on the Yale tradition by wearing something on her head, but chose not to because of the damage it could do to her hair. The former First Lady then launched into a humorous commentary about hair, quipping, "Your hair will send significant messages to those around you. It will tell people who you are and what you stand for, what hopes and dreams you have for the world and especially what hopes and dreams you have for your hair."

A cool, spring breeze rustled the leaves of the giant pin oak and elm trees on Old Campus as Jennifer Lee, secretary of the Class of 2001, welcomed her classmates and their guests to the "party for the Class of 2001," and predicted that her classmates would go on after graduation to accomplish "great things in this world."

Awards and prizes

Fourteen members of the Class of 2001 were honored with prizes for scholastic or athletic achievements, personal characteristics or commitment to community service. Two students were doubly honored for their accomplishments. They are Eyi Tuakli-Wosornu of Timothy Dwight College and Meredith Bryarly of Branford College. Tuakli-Wosornu was presented with both the James Andrew Haas Prize and the Roosevelt L. Thompson Prize, while Bryarly received the Nellie Pratt Elliot Award and the William H. McKim Prize.

Five Yale faculty members were honored at Class Day festivities for their outstanding teaching. One of these also earned double honors: Christy Anderson, assistant professor of the history of art, was awarded both the Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities and the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College.

A gift, good times and ivy vines

Kristy J. Greenberg and Stephen B. Amdur announced at the ceremony that members of the Class of 2001 had made a collective gift of $13,000, a record amount for a graduating class. The class's fund-raising drive, the two boasted, had a 70% participation rate.

Following another annual custom, Class Day cochairs Addisu S. Demissie and Theodore W. Dewitt III planted an ivy in honor of their class beneath the stone of the Yale bicentennial class of 1901, and dedicated a stone with the numerals of the Class of 2001 on Bingham Hall. This tradition began in 1852, when the first ivy vine was placed near the wall of what is now Dwight Memorial Chapel. As his classmates made their sentimental journey to the sites where the graduating class is memorialized, Isaac J. Meyer read in both Latin and English the Ivy Ode he composed for the occasion. The ode typically describes a symbolic connection between the growth of the ivy vine and the flourishing of the graduating class. This year's ode reads, in part:

Twice one hundred years, and then
One hundred more have passed. We band
Of faithful scholars take in hand
The shoots of living vine again.

In well-loved fields we make our way
In our solemnity. Tradition
Mandates this be our commission,
That we rejoice, and meanwhile pray; ...

O mother, Alma Mater, Love,
The gifts we bear, we bear for you,
O grant us what our gift is due --
To live, to flourish, to improve.

And if our prayer be not in vain
And if you look on us with pleasure,
You shall receive this ivy treasure
Thrice one hundred years again.

In fun and frolic

Six students -- Joshua Berezin, Nicholas Fleisher, Catherine Price, Stephen Southard, Edward West and Michael Zimmer -- took to the stage for the traditionally tongue-in-cheek telling of (and, in this case, acting out in parts) the graduating class' four-year history at Yale. Uproarious laughter was heard in the audience as several of these "actors" began romping across the stage portraying man-beasts. As the theme of "2001: A Space Odyssey" began to play, one of the man-beasts picked up a bone with the word "Yale" written on it and began "flogging" a "student" clad in a Harvard sweatshirt.

As the audience's loud laughter died down, the Class Day historians recounted significant people and events in the lives of the graduating seniors over their four years on campus. The latter included the opening of Yale's new Swing Space; musical performances by The Roots, Wyclef Jean and Tito Puente on campus; the adventure of a classmate who got stuck in one of the ventilation ducts of a newly renovated Berkeley College; the Yale football team winning the Ivy Championship in the class' junior year; the renewal of the Broadway area; and Yale's Tercentennial Open House, at which 300 bulldogs were invited to campus as part of the celebration. Surprised students in the audience cheered when they discovered that Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg even had a role in the skit, in which she reminded the class historians of other Yale events they failed to mention, such as the appointment of several new deans and a major bequest from alumnus and philanthropist Paul Mellon '29.

'Bright College Years'

Observing a Yale tradition dating back to the 1860s, the seniors then drew out clay pipes. The pipes are a symbol of appreciation for their years at Yale. The custom is for students to fill the pipe with tobacco, take a few puffs and then trample on their pipes as a sign that the pleasures of college life have ended. While some seniors stuck to the custom, others refrained from putting real tobacco in their pipes and instead held on to them as mementos of the event.

Afterwards, the seniors removed their headgear to take part in the final Class Day tradition, the singing of the alma mater "Bright College Years." At the last line of the song, "For God, for Country, and for Yale!" the students raised their arms and waved white handkerchiefs in the air. Their guests' video cameras were held high in the air to capture the smiling faces of seniors as they finished the song and hugged each other or delivered high-fives.

For some, the ceremony's close was a sentimental moment, while others were exuberant as they inched closer to graduation. The proud father of senior Hannah Guhm summed up the event by saying, "It's a happy day. It's a beginning. Now she steps out into an open world." As senior Elizabeth Goldstein prepared to leave the ceremony with her parents, her face was beaming as she reflected on her soon-to-end Yale years. "It was everything I could have wanted and more," she said.

-- By Susan González

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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