Graduates of 185th Commencement Stand for Honor in the Face of Challenge

For a few hours on Wednesday afternoon, the Yankee Stadium video board was not lit up with players and pinstripes, but rather the faces of students wearing violet robes celebrating their accomplishments as NYU’s graduating class of 2017.

In total, just under 31,000 people flooded Yankee Stadium for the ceremony. The graduates weren’t hampered by the sweltering heat and created an energetic sea of violet at the field-level seats of the stadium. Meanwhile, family and friends sitting above formed a mosaic of khaki bucket hats, brightly colored umbrellas and commencement pamphlets folded overhead.

11-time Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Pharrell Williams was both given an honorary doctorate of arts degree and served as the ceremony’s guest speaker. The writer of “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines” and “Happy” spoke about women’s empowerment, the genuineness of humanitarianism in the age of social media and accessibility to education.

“What will they honor you guys for some day?” Williams said. “What will they honor you for some day? Speaking to you guys today has charged me up. It really has.”

NYU President Andrew Hamilton, meanwhile, emphasized graduates’ admirable New York City grit and the necessity of free speech and facts, which was greeted with enthusiastic praise from the audience.

“I think I can say without fear of contradiction — it has been an eventful year,” Hamilton said. “But when there is so much uncertainty, when the way forward seems obscure or even daunting, these are the times that demand that we concentrate on what truly matters and what we stand for.”

Many attendees chose to pair their academic robes with a free purple “NYU Commencement 2017” baseball cap. Students cheered and rang cowbells when their school’s banner was presented on the field in a show of school spirit and gratitude.

After a performance of the National Anthem by Tisch senior Sophia Alvarez and a video of celebrity alumni including Bill de Blasio, Alec Baldwin and Billy Crystal giving their well wishes, seven individuals received honorary degrees. Recipients included former head of the US Center for Disease Control Thomas Friedman, former Arizona Congresswoman and assassination attempt survivor Gabrielle Giffords, Giffords’ husband and former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, author and social justice advocate Melissa Harris-Perry, Nobel-prize winning chemist Jean-Marie Pierre Lehn, the longest-ever serving female senator and first female Democratic senator to be elected in her own right Barbara Mikulski and Williams.

Hamilton personally addressed the perseverance of former Congresswoman Giffords in recovering from her assassination attempt and advocating against gun violence. He was also sure to thank the “newly minted” graduates for their generous contributions to the 1831 Fund.

Before representatives from each school received degrees on behalf of their classmates, NYU Shanghai senior Roxanne Roman spoke about pressing issues of global injustice, the necessity of ethical leadership and the bright future awaiting her fellow graduates.

“Like many of you, I still can’t get tickets to see Hamilton,” Roman said. “But when I do see the show, I’ll remember I told Yankee Stadium this: ‘Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now. History is happening, and we just happen to be in the greatest city in the world.’”

Additional reporting done by Alex Bazeley. 

Email Caroline Haskins at [email protected]