Commencement '19: a customary celebration

Yale’s 318th commencement looked pretty familiar, except for an unprecedented number of women getting honorary degrees.

The weather was just right on May 20, the day the university conferred 1,384 degrees in Yale College and 2,558 in Yale’s graduate and professional schools. Yale celebrated their commencement, its 318th, according to custom: the Forestry and Environmental Studies grads wore mortarboards decorated with a variety of foliage, the PhDs were conferred in Latin, the speakers exhorted their audience to continue learning and engaging, and the nursing school grads let loose with confetti when their degrees were announced. The bestowal of honorary degrees was a slight exception to tradition. For the first time in Yale’s history, most of the honorees—eight out of eleven—were women. 

The speaker on the previous day, Class Day for the undergraduates, had been Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ’08MA. She spoke about being “open to changing your mind” and “open to the possibility that you might be wrong,” and advised her audience to “marry being idealistic with being pragmatic.” Yale College dean Marvin Chun began his readings by quoting his predecessor, Jonathan Holloway ’95PhD, on the “big questions” that are part of a Yale undergraduate education. In his Baccalaureate Address, Yale president Peter Salovey ’86PhD asked his audience, “What will you imagine? A better business, a smarter school, a stronger community? Whatever you are against, it is time to create something you are for.”