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3,815 honored at Yale’s 314th commencement

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, Fed chair Janet Yellen ’71PhD, and author-activist Larry Kramer ’57 were among nine recipients of honorary degrees today as Yale celebrated its 314th commencement on a cool, overcast spring morning. Earned degrees were awarded to 3,566 graduates of Yale College and the graduate and professional schools, along with provisional awarding of degrees to 239 Yale Law School students and 1 physician-assistant student. (The Law School and the PA program finish later than the rest of Yale.)

The honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Kramer, author of the play The Normal Heart and founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT-UP, marked a new chapter in Kramer’s long and fraught history with his alma mater. Kramer, who was near death 15 years ago while seeking a liver transplant, once engaged in a very public dispute with the university over his desire to endow a gay studies program, which ultimately became the Larry Kramer Initiative. “For your courage and tenacity in speaking out and acting up,” said President Peter Salovey ’86PhD, “we are so pleased to award you your second Yale degree.” Kramer accepted, giving Salovey an unscripted hug and kiss.

The loudest applause among the honorees went to Doctor of Engineering and Technology Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, who has gone on to found Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and the solar energy company SolarCity. “You have the rare gift of imagining the impossible and making it happen,” said Salovey to Musk.

Beisdes Musk, Yellen, and Kramer, degrees went to genetics researcher Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University, discoverer of the weight-regulating hormone leptin (Doctor of Medical Sciences); Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and many medical devices (Doctor of Engineering and Technology); African singer-songwriter and humanitarian Angélique Kidjo (Doctor of Music); economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance for Nigeira (Doctor of Humane Letters); chemist Peter Schultz of the Scripps Resarch Institute (Doctor of Science); and literary scholar Gayatri Spivak of Columbia (Doctor of Humanities).

Today’s ceremony was preceded by Yale College Baccalaureate services on Saturday and Sunday and Yale College Class Day—with Vice President Joe Biden as speaker—on Sunday. Watch video of all three events 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.

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