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Levin honored at commencement

There aren't a lot of surprises at a Yale commencement, which goes off like clockwork every year with the same hymns, the same language for the conferring of degrees, and the same stately procession. Even the names of the honorary degree recipients—closely guarded secrets in the days leading up to commencement—are given away by the programs that guests receive on their way in.

Except for today. After President Richard Levin ’74PhD and provost Benjamin Polak finished reading citations to the nine honorees listed in the program—a typically august lineup that included Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor ’79JD, Federal Express founder Fred Smith ’66, and composer John Adams (the full list and citations are here)—Polak added one more: to Richard Charles Levin, Doctor of Humane Letters.

Senior Yale Corporation Edward Bass ’67 read the citation to Levin, who is leaving the presidency next month after 20 years:

You stand among the great presidents in Yale’s history. After twenty years of extraordinary service as President of this University, you leave Yale strengthened in every important dimension. You have helped to make our remarkable faculty stronger, and you have supported ambitious extensions of research and practice, all the while insisting that teaching remain at the heart of this institution. More Yale students now come from all walks of life and from around the world because of your commitment to increasing access to Yale. You have advanced Yale as a great global university with your emphasis on internationalization, even as you have been a dynamic partner in New Haven’s urban renaissance. Under your leadership, Yale’s beautiful campus has been restored and dramatically expanded; its carbon footprint made smaller; and its architectural distinction widely celebrated. Since you first arrived in New Haven in 1970 as a graduate student, you have embodied the ethos of Yale: commitment to excellence, to truth, and to service. As our President, you have led Yale with those same values, and with a decisiveness to act with wisdom and courage. All who love this University take joy and confidence in knowing that the legacy of your service will benefit Yale forever.

Besides Levin and the nine other honorary degree recipients, 3,346 earned degrees were conferred today. (That includes Law School and Physician Associate grads, whose degrees don't become official until later.) Their procession from Cross Campus to the New Haven Green to the Old Campus began under gray skies, but the rain never came. By the time graduates joined their residential-college or school convocations, the sun was out and it was warming up fast.

Today's ceremonies capped off a weekend of ritual. On Saturday and Sunday, Yale College seniors and their families gathered for three iterations of the baccalaureate service. In his last baccalaureate address (read it here), Levin borrowed from the Grateful Dead in remarking on his 20 years as president: "What a long, strange trip it's been." (He added that in his case, it was "more wonderful than strange.")

And while a light rain fell at Class Day yesterday, Newark mayor Cory Booker ’97JD urged Yale College seniors to be kind and determined in their post-graduate lives. “As you put your sights on your goals—no matter how great and compelling they are—as you look into the distance, don’t forget what is right in front of you today," Booker said. "No matter how great your dreams, no matter how great your destiny, the biggest thing you can do in any day is a small act of kindness.”

See this year's undergraduate prize winners here.

Filed under Commencement, Rick Levin
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