Graduating students in front of the stage

Graduates at Princeton’s 2023 Commencement are called to action on behalf of free speech and equality

A picturesque spring morning in Princeton Stadium was the setting for the University's 276th Commencement ceremony. 

At Princeton’s 276th Commencement on Tuesday, May 30, President Christopher L. Eisgruber encouraged graduating students to “let your voices rise” to protect two important values: free speech and equality.

“We must stand up and speak up together for the values of free expression and full inclusivity for people of all identities,” Eisgruber said, followed by rousing applause from the students, families, friends and other guests seated inside Princeton Stadium.

Princeton football stadium panoramic

The University awarded 1,265 undergraduate degrees and 679 graduate degrees during the ceremony on Tuesday, May 30. 

These constitutional ideals are complementary of — not in competition with — one another and we have a responsibility to protect them, Eisgruber added.

“To all of you who receive your undergraduate or graduate degree from Princeton University today: Your help is urgently needed — now!” he said. “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.”

Eisgruber’s remarks came during the ceremony held on a picturesque spring morning where the University awarded 1,265 undergraduate degrees and 679 graduate degrees. 

The event capped days of campus celebrations, including Reunions for alumni, Baccalaureate featuring an address by philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, Class Day with a speech by U.S. Rep. and Class of 1986 graduate Terri Sewell, and Hooding for masters and doctoral degree candidates. The ROTC Commissioning ceremony was held Tuesday afternoon and included remarks by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Class of 1980 graduate. 

“I have to say I think we’ve had the best weather for Reunions and Commencement in the history of Princeton University. And for what you’ve been through for the last four years, you deserve it,” Eisgruber said, referring to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic during the Class of 2023’s first years at Princeton.

Cherishing free speech, as well as each other

Hats with tiger ribbons
Graduating students with tiger tails in their hats

Guests keep cool with sun hats decorated with orange and black ribbons.


Seniors decorate their caps with tiger tails. 

In his Commencement address, Eisgruber explained the connection between the landmark Supreme Court free speech case New York Times vs. Sullivan and the civil rights work of the late entertainer Harry Belafonte.

Belafonte was one of the principal fundraisers for Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights campaigns and he received an honorary degree from Princeton in 2015 in honor of his social activism and humanitarian work.

During the 1960s, Belafonte had a leadership role in the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom. The Supreme Court’s 1964 Sullivan ruling centered on a newspaper advertisement funded by the committee.

“The Supreme Court thereby, suddenly and in a single decision, created one of the most speech-protective legal doctrines in history — and, for that matter, in the world today,” said Eisgruber, who is also a renowned constitutional scholar.

"When people talk about free speech rights in America, they often depict them as the legacy of the American founding in the 18th century, or as the product of elegant dissents authored by Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis in the early 20th century," he said. "Without meaning any disrespect to the Constitution’s framers or to those legendary justices, this much is clear: the expansive, legally enforceable free speech rights that Americans cherish today first emerged in the 1960s during and because of the fight for racial justice in the South, a fight whose leaders included Black student activists."

Shifting to the present day, Eisgruber expressed his deep concern over efforts “to drive a wedge between the constitutional ideals of equality and free speech.”

“There are people who claim, for example, that when colleges and universities endorse the value of diversity and inclusivity or teach about racism and sexism, they are ‘indoctrinating students’ or in some other way endangering free speech. That is wrong,” Eisgruber said, followed by more enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

Speaking to the students seated before him in rows of chairs on Powers Field, Eisgruber concluded: “Wherever your individual journeys lead you in the years ahead, I hope that you also continue to travel together, as classmates and as alumni of this University, in pursuit of a better world. All of us on this platform have great confidence in your ability to take on the challenge. We applaud your persistence, your talent, your achievements, your values and your aspirations.”

Graduating students taking a selfie

Princeton graduate students gather for a selfie before the ceremony begins. 

His theme of active involvement was also invoked by valedictorian Aleksa Milojević, a mathematics major from Belgrade, Serbia. Milojević spoke of how he and his peers had been actively nurtured by the full Princeton community. He reminded them to practice active appreciation themselves, both of others and of the everyday wonders in their lives.

“Whether it’s actively enjoying campus or actively loving our community, I believe active engagement was central to my Princeton experience and I suspect many of you feel the same,” he said. “Even academically and professionally, I believe it is important to enjoy what we are doing, as we are doing it.”

He concluded: “As you carve your future, I hope you will actively love those around you, as the people on this campus loved us!”

Annabelle Duval, a history major from Rhinebeck, New York, delivered the traditional Latin salutatory address, tracing the Class of 2023’s undergraduate career — from the challenges of remote learning during the pandemic to the joys of celebrating the men’s and women’s basketball teams during March Madness.

“This chaotic time we will remember for countless years. Friends, let us always preserve these dear friendships, formed by many nights in Firestone Library, and may the spirit of the tiger always be with us!” Duval said, as translated to English.

More Commencement highlights

During Commencement, Princeton presented honorary degrees to five distinguished guests:

  • Lynn A. Conway, an innovator of microelectronics chip design and a vocal advocate for transgender rights.
  • Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones, a renowned Caribbean studies scholar and Princeton’s Emory L. Ford Professor of Spanish, Emeritus, and professor of Spanish and Portuguese, emeritus.
  • Rhiannon Giddens, a singer, multi-instrumentalist, and composer who has earned Grammy awards, a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Fellowship.
  • Suzan Shown Harjo, who has spent decades promoting and protecting Native Peoples’ ancestors, children, arts, cultures, languages, traditions, lands and waters.
  • Katalin Karikó, who co-led pioneering research into messenger RNA (mRNA) that provided the foundation for the COVID-19 vaccines developed by BioNTech/Pfizer and by Moderna.

The ceremony also included recognition of the winners of the President’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching, which honors Princeton faculty with sustained records of excellence in teaching undergraduates and graduate students, as well as the recipients of the Princeton Prize for Distinguished Secondary School Teaching, which is given to outstanding teachers from secondary schools in New Jersey.

After the ceremony concluded, students made their way from the stadium to FitzRandolph Gate at the front of campus. It is a Princeton tradition for undergraduates to walk out the center gate only after they’ve graduated, and a stream of joyous graduates took the opportunity to appreciate their place in the University’s long history.

Visit Princeton’s YouTube channel to re-watch graduation events, and follow #Princeton23 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more highlights, photos and videos.

  • Graduating students smiling

    Commencement capped off three days of celebratory end-of-year events for undergraduate and graduate degree candidates. 

  • Graduating year jacket

    A Class of 2023 jacket is seen among the crowd in Princeton Stadium. 

  • Graduating student laughing

    A Princeton senior laughs during the salutatory address. 

  • Graduating students smiling

    Princeton seniors wear stoles from the Pan-African graduation ceremony, which was among various cultural and affinity group celebrations held as part of Commencement events on campus. 

  • graduating student with his family

    Class of 2023 graduates Daniel Diaz-Bonilla (second from left) and Sammy Popper (far right) celebrate with Diaz-Bonilla's siblings, Clara (left) and Christian (second from right).

  • Graduate students smiling with her family

    Class of 2023 graduate Rena Kashari (center) stands with her parents, Najwa Khojah (left) and Khalid Kashari (right). 

  • Graduating students walking towards the gate

    Seniors walk through FitzRandolph Gate at the front of campus after Commencement.

  • Graduating students throwing hats up

    Mortar boards are thrown in the air by members of Princeton's Class of 2023.

Commencement 2023