This just in

On Yale & Yale alumni.
Ico print Print | Ico email Email | Facebook | | RSS

Commencement 2014: enter the banjo

In case anyone had forgotten that this is Peter Salovey’s first commencement as president of Yale, the banjo notes twanging over the public address system probably did the trick. Salovey, who is well known around campus for having played bass in a group called the Professors of Bluegrass, presided over the awarding of an honorary Doctor of Music to bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley at the university’s 313th commencement today. When the 87-year-old Stanley received his degree, the commencement band played a few bars of the bluegrass standard “Man of Constant Sorrow,” with Yale Bands director Thomas Duffy on banjo. (You can see the whole commencement ceremony on video here.)

Aside from the little slice of Appalachia, today’s commencement looked very similar to the dozens that came before it, with the singing of two hymns—one dating back to the first commencement in New Haven in 1718—the lengthy procession from Cross Campus to the New Haven Green to Old Campus, and the en masse awarding of degrees in all of Yale’s schools. Altogether, 1,302 degrees were awarded in Yale College, and 1,830 in the graduate and professional schools. (253 Law School degrees and 36 physician assistant degrees were awarded provisionally; their programs finish after commencement.)

Besides Stanley, honorary degrees were awarded to 11 people (see the full degree citations here):

  • Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, Doctor of Engineering and Technology
  • Rita Dove, former US Poet Laureate, Doctor of Letters
  • Ramachandra Guha, author and public intellectual, Doctor of Humanities
  • Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and pioneer of behavioral economics, Doctor of Social Science
  • Elliot Meyerowitz ’77PhD, plant biologist, Doctor of Science
  • Joseph Polisi, president of the Juilliard School, Doctor of Music
  • Michael Posner, human rights advocate, Doctor of Law
  • Anna Deavere Smith, actor and playwright, Doctor of Fine Arts
  • David Swensen ’80PhD, Yale's chief investment officer, Doctor of Humane Letters
  • Ahmed Zewail, chemist, Doctor of Science
  • Huda Zoghbi, pediatric neurologist, Doctor of Medical Sciences

Today’s ceremony was held under sunny skies and mild temperatures, as was yesterday’s Class Day celebration for Yale seniors. (Watch it here.) US secretary of state John Kerry ’66, the Class Day speaker, talked to seniors about dealing with the “felt needs” of the world, needs that are “growing at a faster pace than ever before, piling up on top of each other, while the response in legislatures or foreign capitals seems nonexistent or frozen.” Kerry counseled them that solving these problems “requires keeping faith with the ability of institutions—of America—to do big things when the moment demands it. … One thing I know for sure—these and other felt needs will never be addressed if you, we, fall victim to the slow suffocation of conventional wisdom.” (Read his full speech here.)

And at baccalaureate addresses on Saturday and Sunday, President Salovey spoke to seniors about gratitude in a speech that invoked economist Adam Smith, poet Billy Collins, and research into chimpanzee behavior. “True happiness in life, and true health in society, may not be possible without the capacity to reject the myth of total self-reliance,” he said. “The good life may be out of reach unless we are able to cultivate an openness to accepting help from others and expressing gratitude for that help.” Read his full speech here.

For the winners of this year’s undergraduate prizes, click here.

And for the winners of teaching prizes, click here.


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Commencement, Ralph Stanley, Peter Salovey
The comment period has expired.