Yale Bulletin and Calendar

June 9, 2006|Volume 34, Number 30|Five-Week Issue















Whether singing or cheering, members of the graduating classes of 2006 were exuberant during Commencement exercises on May 22, at which President Levin conferred their degrees and "admitted" them to the "rights and responsibilities" of Yale graduates.

University celebrates its 305th graduation

"You go girl!" hooted one of the nearly 10,000 guests at Yale's 305th Commencement ceremony on May 22 as retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- the first woman to sit on the nation's highest court -- was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

The crowd on Old Campus, including the 1,281 new graduates of Yale College and approximately 2,300 graduates of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and Yale's 11 professional schools, rose from their seats to give O'Connor a standing ovation.

"As the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, you have worked tirelessly to find the moderate, middle ground," President Richard C. Levin told O'Connor. "Your judicial pragmatism has helped to keep the law a living thing, evolving and changing as the world changes, serving society well. You are a judge of the people and for the people."

While the renowned judge may have elicited the biggest reaction at the ceremony, held under a sunny sky in an unseasonably cool breeze, the guests were clearly no less proud of the graduate they came to celebrate.

O'Connor was one of seven honorary degree recipients at this year's ceremony. Also honored were Peter Brown, professor of history at Princeton; architect Zaha Hadid; Moshe Idel, professor of Jewish thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Peter Raven, professor of botany at Washington University and director of the Missouri Botanical Garden; and playwright Edward Albee. In addition, John E. Pepper Jr. '60, who recently retired as vice president for finance and administration at the University and was a senior fellow of the Yale Corporation, was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. (For complete citations for all of the honorary degree recipients, click here.)

Degrees and blessings

Yale's Commencement exercises officially began with the procession of the students onto Old Campus. While all were clad in traditional black graduation gowns, some students from the professional schools distinguished themselves by donning accessories that expressed their particular interest. In keeping with a long tradition, the graduates of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies decorated their mortarboards with leafy vegetation, for example, while students from the School of Nursing wore red paper hearts on their chests.

The exuberant graduating students and the crowd were hushed as the Reverend Frederick J. Streets, University chaplain, opened the ceremony with a benedictory prayer. He noted that the graduates hailed from all over the world and called the ceremony a celebration of "our global kinship." He prayed for the graduating students to have courage to face life's "challenges, ambiguities and uncertainties," the desire to heal both the "visible and invisible" wounds suffered by humankind and the ability to embrace failure as well as success. Calling upon the graduates to be "instruments of peace, global neighbors and good neighbors to others," the chaplain also prayed that they will "contribute to making our world a better place."

The students cheered and shouted as the deans of Yale College, the Graduate School and the professional schools "presented" their respective soon-to-be-graduates to Levin and requested that he confer their degrees. Student representatives walked up to the Commencement dais to accept the symbolic degrees on behalf of their classmates.

For the Yale School of Management, this year's graduating class of 215 students signifies a milestone in the history of the school; it matriculated its 5,000th graduate since its founding in 1976. The Divinity School -- for the first time ever -- graduated a father and a son, Hamden residents Willie Mebane Jr. and his son, Karreem Askia Mebane. The elder Mebane, a former chair of the Hamden Board of Education who has worked for the Jackie Robinson Foundation and Amistad America, earned a Master of Divinity degree and hopes to become an Episcopal priest. His son, who has been a professional umpire for minor-league baseball, acquired a Master of Arts in religion, which he hopes he can utilize to improve ethical conduct in major league baseball.

Students from the Law School bellowed "Hongju, Hongju" as their dean, Harold Hongju Koh, arrived at the microphone to request the conferring of provisional degrees for his graduating students, whose spring term officially ends after Commencement. One short-in-stature law student stood on her chair to wave to her family members as Levin conferred the provisional degrees to her class. Another group of students -- those in the University's Physician Assistant Program -- participate in Commencement but do not complete their degrees until September. Their beaming faces at the ceremony belied the fact that they still have more work ahead.

Conspicuous in the sea of gown-clad students wearing mortarboards was one graduating student from the School of Drama, who rigged on her head a large photograph of her school's dean, James Bundy, along with smaller photos of her classmates. Bundy, still recovering from a grave illness that had hospitalized him earlier in the spring, was -- to the obvious delight of his graduating class -- on hand for the ceremony.

Under the giant oak trees of the historic Old Campus, some students blew bubbles in the air as Commencement exercises concluded with two hymns, "Psalm LXV" (which has been sung since Yale's first Commencement in 1718) and "O God, beneath thy guiding hand." While many referred to their Commencement program to sing along with the hymns, others appeared to know the words by heart. Some of the students instead chatted quietly with their classmates or took photographs of the friends they made during their time on campus.

After a blessing on all in attendance by Divinity School Dean Harold W. Attridge, the approximately 3,500 graduating students paraded off Old Campus to music performed by the Yale Concert Band: "Flourish for Wind Band" by Ralph Vaughan Williams, "Marche Militaire Française" by Camille Saint-Saens and "March 'Hello Sunshine'" by Yoshio Matsuo. As they were well on their way to the smaller ceremonies being held at their residential colleges or their respective schools -- at which degrees were awarded individually -- the chiming of the Yale Memorial Carillon signaled the end of the Old Campus gathering.

Class Day wisdom and frolic

For the members of the Yale College Class of 2006, the Commencement ceremony on Old Campus marked their second gathering at that venue.

The day before, the graduating seniors marched onto Old Campus for the Class Day ceremony, which featured an address by Anderson Cooper, anchor and reporter on the CNN program "Anderson Cooper 360°"; the awarding of prizes to outstanding teachers and to seniors who distinguished themselves for their scholastic, athletic or personal accomplishments; the tongue-in-cheek telling of the history of the Class of 2006; the recitation of the Ivy Ode; and other festivities.

Among the creative Class Day headgear was this student's prominent display of the latest issue of Vanity Fair featuring an article about Class Day speaker and CNN reporter Anderson Cooper.

Earlier in the weekend, the seniors had also gathered in three different groups to hear Levin's Baccalaureate Address, which focused on the topic "Curiosity, Independence and Public Service." (For the text of his address, click here.)

Traditionally, the soon-to-be-graduates don festive headgear for the Class Day ceremony, and this year's class honored that custom by adorning their heads with such creative headgear as a dinner tray complete with a banana, a glass, a fish and other items; a U.S. Route 66 sign; a box illustrated with a giant question mark; lampshades; a roll of toilet paper on a branch of flowering shrub; pink flying pigs; and an Indian headdress; as well as the standard favorites: baseball caps, straw hats, wizard hats and all manner of stuffed animals.

William "Tre" Borden, secretary of the Class of 2006, welcomed his classmates to the festivities. As some of them cheered, Borden recounted some quintessential Yale traditions, such as Tap Night and the Harvard-Yale football game, but said, "What has always defined us is not what we did while we were here, but who we did it with. ... When we graduate in less than 24 hours, we become part of one of the most illustrious groups in the world: Yale alumni." For the rest of their lives, he continued, "Yale will continue to give us anchor."

Cooper, a 1989 Yale College graduate, arrived at the podium wearing a Yale baseball cap, and incited hearty laughter with a fast-paced string of jokes, including one about the Yale Alumni Association. He quipped, "You don't know this about the Yale Alumni Association yet, but let me just warn you: For the rest of your life, they will hunt you down. ... Seriously, enjoy the next 24 hours because right now you are still students. Tuesday morning they will have all your numbers, all your addresses in the database and they will start tracking you. If Osama bin Laden was a Yale graduate, they would know what cave he was in, exactly."

In a more serious vein, Cooper recalled how, on his own graduation day from Yale, he had no job and no real plans for his future. His mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, offered him some advice she had seen the late Sarah Lawrence College professor Joseph Campbell give in a television interview: "Follow your bliss."

That adage, Cooper told the seniors, turned out to be "pretty good advice." He noted that he was a political science major who specialized in Communism, but the year he graduated, the Berlin Wall fell, marking the symbolic collapse of the Communist system and making his specialty moot. He did have an interest in television news, however, so he applied for a job at ABC News as a gopher, but was not hired. Thus, he decided to embark on a news career on his own. A friend made him a fake press pass and Cooper, armed with a home video camera, went off to the world's most conflict-ridden countries: first Burma, then Bosnia, South Africa and Rwanda.

Being turned down for a job at ABC, said Cooper, "was the best thing that ever happened to me.

"I decided that if no one would give me a chance, I'd have to take a chance, and if no one would give me an opportunity, I would have to create my own opportunity," he says of his decision to go to the world's hot zones and report from them. It was in these places, he told the soon-to-be-graduates, that he really learned about life.

"I may have gone to school at Yale, but I always think that in many ways I was educated on the streets of Johannesburg, in Kigali, in Sarajevo, in Port-Au-Prince. And I've learned when you go to the edges of the world, where the boundaries aren't clear, where the dark parts of the human heart are open for all to see -- you learn things about yourself and you learn things about your fellow human beings and what we're all capable of. We're capable, really, of anything: great acts of compassion and dignity, as we saw in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We're also capable of great acts of cowardice and brutality and stupidity, which we also saw in the wake of Hurricane Katrina."

Cooper, who reported for CNN from the flood-ravaged Southern coast after the hurricane, said that his enterprising adventure into war zones paid off in about two years, when ABC came calling and offered him a job as a correspondent when he was just 27 years old. Had he followed a more conventional path, he said, that opportunity might never have come.

"When I was graduating and trying to decide what to do with my life, I really felt paralyzed because I thought I had to figure it out all at once," he commented. "I had to pick a career and start down a path that I'd be on for the rest of my life. I now know that it totally doesn't work that way. It certainly didn't for me. Everyone I know who's successful, professionally and personally, could never have predicted when they graduated from college where they'd actually end up. My friends from Yale who are happiest are the ones who thought less of where they'd be in 10 years and what steps they'd have to do now in order to make partner 10 years from now in a law firm or build their 401K. My friends who are happiest now are the ones who kept taking steps based on what they felt right and what felt like them at the moment.

"When I started going to wars, I had no clear goal in mind," he continued. "There was no path that promised me success or job security. But I was listening, really, to myself and followed my passion, and I'm more convinced than ever that if you do that, you will be successful. I'm not talking about rich -- perhaps you will be -- but you'll be fulfilled, and that's the greatest success you can have."

Cooper told the Class of 2006 that his Yale experience, not in its particulars but in its totality, helped him to survive in some of the most dangerous places in the world as he was reporting.

"When I first went to war in Somalia, I was surrounded by teenagers with guns and grenade launchers. There was nothing particular that I learned at Yale that allowed me to survive. When I was in Rwanda in the genocide and was surrounded by bodies and had seen terrible things, there was no one particular class that I've taken that helped me get through. And yet something about the experience here -- the friendships, the accumulating facts and theories, the confidence I gained over the course of four years -- allowed me to go to those places and helped me chart my own course."

Nevertheless, he said, "When you graduate, the slate is wiped clean," noting that since he left Yale, he has never had to tell an employer what his grades were or in what extracurricular activities he was involved.

Describing himself as "not very good at advice," Cooper said that he was taking the liberty of following in his mother's footsteps of passing on advice seen on television, and offering some words from one of his favorite movies, "Lawrence of Arabia."

"There's a line in it where Lawrence says, 'Nothing is written.' And for you, on this day, at this moment in your lives, I think that is especially true. Nothing is written. You've been taught how to write for yourselves. This weekend, the slate is wiped clean. There are no words that you have to use. There are no sentences you must complete. You stand before a field of freshly fallen snow; there are no footprints that you have to follow. Nothing is written. And I hope you know that it is truly a rare and wonderful place to be." (The full text of Cooper's address can be found at www.yale.edu/opa.)

Awards for teachers and scholars

The sky grew increasingly dark as Cooper was speaking and eventually gave way to heavy rain, forcing members of the Class of 2006 to put on the blue rain ponchos that were included in their plastic Class Day bags. Some Commencement guests sought refuge in Battell Chapel or Linsly-Chittenden Hall, where they could watch the ceremony on live television feed, while others raised colorful umbrellas over their heads as prizes were awarded to teachers and students.

Six members of the faculty were honored as outstanding teachers. The teachers, and the awards they received, are William Summers, the Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize; Troy Cross, the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching in Yale College; Vladimir Alexandrov, the Sidonie Miskimin Class Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities; Benjamin Polak, the Lex Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences; Mitch Smooke, the Dylan Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences; and Maria Crocetti, the Richard H. Brodhead Prize for Teaching Excellence by a Non-Ladder Faculty Member. (More on teaching prizes can be found at www.yale.edu/opa.)

Coming from all over the world, members of the Yale College Class of 2006 have created bonds that transcend boundaries.

Eight graduating seniors were awarded prizes for their sportsmanship. They are Iris Ma, Miguel Agrait and Bryan Hartenberg, who received the Robert E. Lewis Award for intramural sportsmanship; Michelle Quibell and Joslyn Woodward, who shared the Nellie Pratt Elliot Award for best female athlete; Julian Illingworth, who was honored with the William Neely Mallory Award for best male athlete; and Matthew Boshart and Zac Bradley, who received the Amanda D. Walton Award, given to outstanding athletes who have shown spirit and courage in transcending unforeseen challenges. Boshart, a middle-distance runner, returned to his sport just a few months after completing treatment for bone cancer in his knee, while Bradley, a member of the Yale baseball team, was sidelined during the 2003 season with serious injuries following a car accident that year that claimed the lives of four fellow Yale students, including two of his teammates.

Three Yale seniors -- Joshua Eidelson, Ashley Gorski and Nilakashi Parndigamage -- were presented the David Everett Chantler Award, which is given to graduating students "who best exemplify the qualities of courage, strength of character and high moral purpose." Four members of the Class of 2006 were honored with the Roosevelt L. Thompson Prize for their commitment to public service.

A new award, the Nakanishi Prize, was presented for the first time at the Class Day ceremony to recognize a senior's (or seniors') leadership in enhancing race and ethnic relations at Yale College. Two students were chosen for the prize this year: Kahina Robinson and Elizabeth Hinson.

Top academic prizes were awarded to five seniors. Jessica Leight was awarded both the Alpheus Henry Snow Prize and the Warren Memorial High Scholarship Prize. The other winners and their prizes are: Sarah Stillman, the James Andrew Haas Prize; Anthony Xu, the Arthur Twining Hadley Prize; Satya Bhabba and Carl Apolito-Dworkin, the Louis Sudler Prize for Excellence in the Arts. (More on athletic, personal achievement and scholastic prizes can be found at here.)

Life beyond Yale

The seniors laughed and cheered during yet another Class Day tradition -- a telling of the "class history," which this year was performed as a humorous skit written by Michael Dunham, Patrick Huguenin, James Kirchick, Maureen Miller and Zachary Soto. They were silent when a moment was reserved to remember a classmate, Rachel Speight, who died last year on a bicycle trek as part of a coast-to-coast Habitat for Humanity cycling fundraiser. Likewise, a hush fell over the Old Campus as Paula Brady read "To Ivy," a poem she composed as the Ivy Ode. The Ivy Ode is written by a member of the graduating class each year and describes a symbolic connection between the growth of ivy vine and the flourishing of the graduating class. Traditionally, the ode is read in both English and then translated into a foreign language; this year, it was instead translated into musical form via a composition written by senior Andrew Johnson.

Brady's symbolic poem about Yale's famous ivy read, in part:

"We loved her well: her whispered, rousing cheer
in springtime, the joyous calls of battle
on the field, the dewy morning light caught
like a darting, clean, white kerchief, flapping --
flag of victory -- to the age-old tune. ...

But now, we are the birds that leave her halls
of green, the enchanted wood where time was still.
Nestled in the creaking college eaves, we sing
(or squawk) in trepidation, Can we fly?

But look, the Ivy grows -- now a ladder,
now a stair. A form on bended knee, hands
joined for our step, to bring us over top.

And where it cannot climb, it goes right through --
to find a world that finds itself in times
of strife. But we are primed to lend our voice,
our strength to build a city drowned, spirit
to find, in every place and time, a bridge.

The Ivy is, at once, our empty nest,
our guide to light the way, our trusted page
of able form and loyal heart, and now,
our leaving love, to whom we look, in thanks --

Or rather, we depart from her, and look
now to each other, in hopes to find,
in the reflection of nostalgic eyes,
our younger selves. But only for an instant,
as we bank and rise to the dawning skies.

By the time the students raised their "victory flags," the white handkerchiefs that -- in yet another Class Day tradition -- they wave at the end of the ceremony while singing the alma mater "Bright College Years," the sky was already turning brighter, and sunshine started peeking through the clouds. In the misty haze of returning sunlight after a hard rain, the smiling throng of near-graduates departed for their final festivities, turning to each other to talk or pose for pictures as they made their way off the Old Campus-- the section of Yale where they began their first days of college, and where, on this day and the next, they began to say their farewells in ceremonies that served as bridges to life beyond the place that -- for four years -- had been their home.

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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Jaroslav Pelikan, renowned scholar of church history

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Celebrated performer to teach summer flute institute

Drama production will highlight work by New Haven students

Reading aloud

Campus Notes

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