Celebrating Commencement

May 22, 2017

For thousands of Yale graduates and their families, today represents a wonderful milestone. Across campus, families will gather to reflect on their loved ones’ achievements and revel in their accomplishments. 

Today is also a significant occasion for our university. Staff and faculty from every program, department, and school help prepare for Commencement. Many people work hard to create a meaningful experience for graduates and their supporters.

Commencement at Yale has changed and evolved over three centuries. In September 1702, the Collegiate School lauded its first graduates—all five of them—in a private home in Saybrook. The festivities moved to the meetinghouse on the New Haven Green in 1717. In the following year, the college made an important announcement at Commencement when the programs were reprinted to reflect the school’s new name, Yale College. 

Since those early days, our graduation ceremony has changed venues—moving to Old Campus after World War II to accommodate larger class sizes—and added schools, degrees, and traditions. This year, the heads of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin Colleges will join the academic procession, which snakes from residential college courtyards to Cross Campus and finally to Old Campus. It is also worth remembering that in the eighteenth century, the next school year began immediately following Commencement with no summer recess. Yet another reason to celebrate today’s evolving traditions!

Commencement is a time of pageantry—colorful banners, heraldic insignia, academic regalia, and much fun. It is also an opportunity for reflection and gratitude. I hope that today, in the midst of ceremonies and photo opportunities, we are all able to appreciate what Commencement means for our graduates, their families, and for Yale.