Baccalaureate Readings by Yale College Dean Marvin Chun

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Yale College Dean Marvin Chun offered the following readings during the Baccalaureate ceremonies on May 18 and 19.

Mr. President, Mr. Provost, Madame Secretary, deans, college heads, college deans, colleagues, friends, families, and, most of all, members of the Class of 2019, welcome to this day, and congratulations. …

On this occasion, it is customary for the President to deliver a baccalaureate address and for the Dean of Yale College to offer readings.

My first to you comes from my predecessor, Jonathan Holloway, who four years ago greeted you in this hall and welcomed you to Yale. I can’t know if Dean Holloway was aware then that you would be passing through Yale during one of the most dynamic periods in its history, but in either case his words were prescient. Here he is, speaking to you in 2015:

The Yale you have just joined looks radically different in ways that would have been beyond the imagination of the eighteen-year old men, who, in 1965, sat in the same seats you occupy today. And the Yale of 2065 will be something distinct from what your present collective imagination can summon. This place is ever-evolving; and this is how it should be at a great university.

You have come here at a unique moment, when this university engages with questions of its own identity. You also bring your own questions about your own identities and what the future holds for you. These big questions will form part of the education that awaits you, but so will the conversation that begins today, as you write your own story and build your own Yale.

Dean Holloway witnessed much of the story that you wrote and the Yale that you built, watching in admiration as you worked to make this place more inclusive to everyone. I have watched with my own admiration as you have continued this work, and with gratitude for your engagement and for your trust. Throughout this period of change, you have shown resilience, patience, and confidence. Your commitment to positive change was rooted in not just your friends and mentors, but also in your own selves.

My second reading, excerpted from C.P. Cavafy’s 1911 poem “Ithaka,” could have been written for this day, for you, as you set out from this place on the journeys you have spent these past few years charting. Cavafy was writing of Odysseus’s journey home, to Ithaka, but he could just as easily have been speaking to you, in words describing the journey you have just completed — or the one ahead.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery. …
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,>
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

My final reading comes from John Milton, who famously described some young people you might recognize, and who, like you, found themselves taking their first steps into a new world beyond the one they knew and loved. I offer him to you now, from his “Paradise Lost”:

Some natural tears they dropp’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

Congratulations, Class of 2019.