Princeton’s Class of 2019 kicked off graduation events on Sunday, June 2, at the 272nd Baccalaureate, an interfaith service that is one of the University’s oldest traditions.
Baccalaureate offers seniors a moment of reflection between the weekend’s revelry of Reunions and the upcoming Class Day and Commencement ceremonies. Baccalaureate dates to at least 1760 and features music and blessings from a range of faith and philosophical traditions.
The sunny afternoon began with seniors wearing traditional gowns and mortarboards processing through the James Johnson Arch and into the University Chapel. Families and friends gathered to cheer the students as they marched by and to watch the ceremony on large outdoor screens.
This year’s Baccalaureate address was given by George Will, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author. Will earned a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton in 1968 and served as a University trustee from 2009 to 2013.
The service began with an invocation from the Rev. Alison Boden, dean of religious life and the chapel. “We stand at the edge of a new adventure grateful for all that we received and excited for the growth that is to come,” she said.
President Christopher L. Eisgruber welcomed graduating seniors and reflected on their transition from students to Princeton alumni.
“All Princetonians take great pride in our shared mission to be ‘in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.’ It is a mission you upheld in many ways during your time here,” he said.
He cited as some examples students who volunteered in the community through the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, participated in international service projects, advocated for social justice reforms, and conducted research on pressing issues such as environmental sustainability and health care.
“At the heart of our community is the desire and responsibility to make the world a better place,” Eisgruber said. “As you enter your next stage of life as a Princetonian, I know you have left our campus better than when you arrived, and that you are poised to have the same impact on the world around us. For that you have my deepest respect and gratitude.”
Baccalaureate also featured readings by a number of seniors, including passages from the Bhagavad Gita, verses from Psalm 19 and the poem “Say Yes” by Andrea Gibson.
Before the Baccalaureate address began, Eisgruber introduced Will by noting his strong connection to Princeton over the years. Will received the James Madison Medal for graduate alumni in 1992 and, this spring semester, taught a freshman seminar on “Varieties of American Conservatism.”
“Today, Will writes a twice weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs, which has been syndicated by The Washington Post since 1974,” Eisgruber said. “Throughout his extraordinary career, Will has exemplified the University’s mission of service to humanity as a dedicated journalist and political commentator who writes with insight and integrity.”
Will’s speech was in praise of praise, as he quoted the refrain from Princeton’s alma mater encouraging alumni to sing “in praise of Old Nassau.”
“So, I hope that when you are asked what you learned at this University, you can truthfully answer: I learned to praise,” Will said. “Intelligent praising is a talent. It is learned. Like all virtues, it is habitual. It is a habit. And it is a virtue we need more of right now.”
Will contended that people are happier when they are less angry, less envious and more positive.
“Today, there is a serrated edge to American life. The nation is awash in expressions of contempt and disdain,” Will said. “In this age of rage, disparagement is the default setting for many Americans. … Praise is, therefore, an antidote to something that today’s America has too much of: anger.”
He said students who are taught how to praise learn how to decide which “people and things” deserve praise and learn how to acknowledge that which is truly excellent.
“It is more than my hope, it is my assumption, that you who are now leaving this University have been equipped by it to become, yourselves, standards of excellence in your professions and in your lives,” Will said. “As you take your leave of the University, you take with you an understanding of excellence. This will enable you to have the regularly recurring pleasure of praising excellence when you see it. And this will equip you to be praiseworthy.”
The Baccalaureate service concluded with a benediction by the Rev. Theresa Thames, associate dean of religious life and of the chapel.
“Now that your Princeton University undergraduate journey has come to an end, may you reflect on the blessings and the burdens; the lessons and the failures; the many ways you have realized your highest and best self,” Thames said. “And may you leave this place with purpose, passion and a call.”
The Baccalaureate service will be available later for viewing online. End-of-the-year activities will continue tomorrow morning, June 3, with Class Day for seniors featuring remarks by actress and Princeton alumna Ellie Kemper. The Hooding ceremony for advanced-degree candidates will be held the afternoon of June 3. The Commencement ceremony, which traditionally features a speech by the Princeton University president, will be held Tuesday, June 4.