With a few tips of President Christopher Eisgruber ’83’s cap, Princeton awarded 1,265 undergraduate and 679 graduate degrees at its 276th Commencement on May 30.
Family and friends armed with bags of popcorn and flower bouquets gathered at Princeton Stadium to cheer on the graduates amid a glorious day — the perfect weather was a welcome throughline throughout the week’s events, which included Baccalaureate May 28 and Class Day May 29 (see sidebar).
As Dean of the College Jill Dolan presented the candidates for bachelor’s degrees, she fondly recalled her role in admitting the class during her one-year stint in admission. “Each and every one of you have left your imprint on this university,” she said.
In his remarks, Class of 2023 valedictorian Aleksa Milojević reflected on his experience of seeing the campus through fresh eyes when his family arrived at Princeton a few days prior to the event. It made him realize the importance of what Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky called “active love,” which Milojević said is about appreciating beauty and “making those around us feel better in small, tangible, and practical ways.”
His final message to his classmates was to “actively love those around you, as the people on this campus loved us!”
Annabelle Duval ’23, who gave the salutatory address in Latin, acknowledged the students’ unconventional journey during their time at Princeton, particularly given the transition to virtual learning due to the pandemic during the undergraduates’ first year on campus. “At least the campus foxes and the beautiful towers and the huge construction sites, these well-known signs of our home, brought comfort to us,” she said, in translated text provided after the ceremony.
Before sending the newly minted alumni off into the world, Eisgruber relayed a message about the importance of using one’s voice from the late Harry Belafonte, a 2015 honorary degree recipient. Belafonte, a singer and activist, was a leader in the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, which in 1960 placed a full-page ad in The New York Times titled “Heed Their Rising Voices.”
The ad called for support of Black students and for nonviolent demonstrations, but it contained a few factual errors. A libel lawsuit was then launched by the police commissioner in Montgomery, Alabama, eventually making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to Eisgruber, the court’s landmark decision that libel statements must be made with actual malice “created one of the most speech-protective legal doctrines in history — and, for that matter, in the world today.
“We must stand up and speak up together for the values of free expression and full inclusivity for people of all identities,” Eisgruber said.
Later in his remarks, Eisgruber issued another call to action: “To all of you who receive your undergraduate or graduate degree from Princeton University today: Your help is urgently needed — now! So, as you go forth from this university, let your voices rise. Let them rise for equality. Let them rise for the value of diversity. Let them rise for freedom, for justice, and for love among the people of this Earth.”
The message resonated with the audience. Fengling Wang, who traveled from Las Vegas to watch her son, Richard Huang ’23, graduate with his degree in chemical and biological engineering, said, “I just feel you’ve got more responsibility after your graduation. That’s why they say to speak up.”
After the ceremony concluded, the graduates joyfully celebrated their new alumni status with loved ones.
Tony Ye *23, who graduated with a master’s in operations research, is planning to pursue further higher education; he’ll be going to Stanford to earn a Ph.D. in operations research. And while more schooling lies ahead, Ye is glad to close the chapter on his time at Princeton. “It’s been a stressful time leading up to this — it’s a lot of things going on,” he said.
Alexis Anglade ’23, who received her degree from the School of Public and International Affairs, reunited with her family on Poe Field. “I feel a little crazy,” she said. “Like, wow, I can’t believe that my time is already up. I’ll never be in a place like this again, so it’s a little bit bittersweet, but I’m happy to be done.” Anglade, a fencer, said she plans to take a gap year while training for the Olympics before going to law school.
After his sister’s big moment, Ronald “RJ” Anglade, a member of the Class of 2025, reflected on his own Princeton journey. “Seeing all these big assignments — junior papers, senior thesis — all that stuff scares me, but also gets me excited to think about how I can really try to make an impact at Princeton before I graduate,” he said. “It gives me something to look forward to.”