In my last Flashback piece, I wrote about the fun and festive events surrounding Yale Graduation. In this piece I will tackle the behemoth of emotions that is the actual graduation ceremonies! It is a whirlwind of traditions and laughs and tears. And I can say comfortably that, even in this Covid year (perhaps especially in this Covid year), it thoroughly blew me away.
This year’s Grad weekend started bright and early Saturday morning with the Commencement ceremony. When people think of a college graduation, they probably first think about Commencement. COMMENCEMENT FUN FACT: The word commence actually means “to begin,” and originally Yale commencement ceremonies took place at the beginning of the year—to kick things off. And in a way, it still does: it celebrates our entrance into life after graduation, into the real world. This year, to our seniors’ delight, Commencement took place on Old Campus, where we were first welcomed into Yale four years ago. The ceremony started with some remarks from President Salovey and Dean Chun. This year, because of input from a committee of students, our respective heads of college called each of us onto the stage in Old Campus to receive our temporary diploma (the real one comes in the mail later in the summer; that’s right, Graduation is the gift that keeps on giving!).
Typically, this walking ceremony takes place separately in the residential college courtyards, so it was an extra special treat to be able to do so in the historic and iconic Old Campus! This part of the ceremony was the ultimate blend of refined and … hype. On the one hand, as we walked by countless Yale Professors and Heads, some of the brightest minds of our generation, you can’t help but feel butterflies fill your stomach and an overwhelming sense of pride for all that you accomplished. On the other hand, the soundscape is crowded out by a beautiful harmony of delighted shrieks, chants, cow bells (yes, the residential college Trumbull provided their students with cow bells!!), and happy hoots and hollers—for your college, for your friends, and for Yale.
Trumbull may have given cow bells, but my residential college, Ezra Stiles, gave us SWORDS!!!
The rest of Saturday, for almost all students, turned into a de facto photo shoot session. From the tried-and-true cap throwing flic in front of Sterling Library to the more secluded, shaded walkway of Hillhouse to the residential college group shot with the people who have made this place home, seniors, adorned in their caps and gowns, cover every square inch of Yale’s gothic campus searching for the perfect picture spot. The residential colleges even provided professional photographers who took our portraits in the college courtyards.
Sunday was Class Day—the part of graduation that’s run entirely by students and for students. A committee of seniors chooses every speaker and plans all the festivities. This year, Class Day started with a delicious Senior Picnic with essentially all-you-could eat sandwiches, cookies, and chips from Nica’s Market in East Rock. I, for one, loved housing my artisan turkey sub and massive M&M’s cookie (embarrassingly, I wrote and deleted “Eminem cookie” like three times until I remembered that was the rapper and not the candy) before watching the wonderfully produced video for the Class Day reflections. This year’s Class Day Speaker was Robert Lopez ‘97, the songwriter of Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, Coco, and Frozen. He and his wife literally wrote “Let it Go”! And to make things even better he WROTE US AN ORIGINAL SONG TO COMMEMORATE OUR GRADUATION. My chin actually still hurts from how hard my jaw hit the floor when he started singing.
Following Lopez came three different student reflections: 1) the Ivy Ode, which is typically the more creative piece; 2) the comedic reflection; and 3) the serious reflection. The cool thing about this year’s Class Day was that you could watch the recording wherever you wanted. Some projected it on tents in the residential college courtyards. Others watched it cuddled together in their suites. I watched it with my family and friends in a stunning movie room tucked away in the back of The Study hotel right across from the School of Art!
Shameless Plug: I was fortunate enough to give the serious reflection this year. You can watch it at this link! My speech starts at 48:37 :)
“Bright College Years”
Perhaps the most subtle but meaningful part of graduation was the ode to “Bright College Years.” This is one of the closest things Yale has to an anthem. In fact, singing “Bright College Years” is another one of those bookending experiences that Yale loves so much. We first sang it together four years ago at our opening assembly. And to accompany the famous final words, “For God, for Country and for Yale,” we are given white, Yale-branded handkerchiefs to sway back and forth for emphasis on each word. This year, they gave us new handkerchiefs with our Class Year printed onto it. But instead of singing it, they did perhaps the only more magical thing possible. They played it over Harkness Tower. Imagine walking out of Old Campus, diploma in hand, with this beautiful and poignant song dancing from arguably the most beautiful building in America. As those notes floated down to us, I couldn’t help but feel all the love, all the memories, and all of the joy from these past four years hit me at once.
“Bright College years, with pleasure rife,
The shortest, gladdest years of life;
How swiftly are ye gliding by!
Oh, why doth time so quickly fly?
The seasons come, the seasons go,
The earth is green or white with snow,
But time and change shall naught avail
To break the friendships formed at Yale.
In after years, should troubles rise
To cloud the blue of sunny skies,
How bright will seem, through mem’ry’s haze
Those happy, golden, bygone days!
Oh, let us strive that ever we
May let these words our watch-cry be,
Where’er upon life’s sea we sail:
For God, for Country and for Yale”
I mean, give me a break! How could you not tear up to that?
Overall, this year was historic. It was new. And it was different than we could have ever expected. But Graduation was still so incredibly memorable that I for one can’t stop thinking of how grateful I was to spend my Bright College Years at a place as supportive, loving, and special as Yale.