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Yankee Stadium was packed with a crowd of 33,000 Wednesday — not for a baseball game, but for New York University’s 181st commencement.
Also, it was in the morning, not the evening. But pretzels and Nathan’s hot dogs were still being sold at the concession stands.
Under overcast skies, 8,000 students receiving undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees were joined by faculty members and 25,000 guests at the ceremony, which filled most of the stadium, stretching up to the nosebleed seats, all the way from the right-field foul pole to the third-base line.
Down on the field, there was one guy wearing a Yankee cap, though it wasn’t Robinson Cano or Mariano Rivera, but John Sexton, the university’s president, who officiated the ceremony, along with Martin Lipton, chairperson of the university’s board of trustees.
N.Y.U. bestowed honorary degrees on attorney David Boies, genome scientist Claire Marie Fraser, Afghan Museum Director Omara Khan Masoudi and film director Oliver Stone, who is an alumnus of N.Y.U.’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Boies, the renowned attorney and litigator, is the lead co-counsel in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the historic same-sex marriage civil rights case challenging Proposition 8 now before the Supreme Court. Boies addressed the graduates on behalf of the honorary degree recipients.
Boies said these are “interesting times,” with L.G.B.T. civil rights and liberties being challenged. Sadly, he said, alluding to the recent bias attacks in New York City, there is still violence in the streets against gays. He said his hope is that in the future, the children of today’s graduates won’t have to ask why gay and lesbian couples can’t marry each other.
In addition, the 2013 N.Y.U. Presidential Medal was awarded to Edith Windsor, an N.Y.U. alumna and Greenwich Village resident who is the plaintiff in the fight against the Defense of Marriage Act, the other same-sex marriage case currently being considered by the Supreme Court.
Adressing the graduates, Sexton said, “The challenges that confront your generation — climate change and developing sustainable energy sources, political and religious extremism, poverty, to name just a few — may appear daunting and complex. They require men and women with a global outlook who are prepared to act with thoughtfulness, resolve and wisdom. But I am confident that the lessons you learned at N.Y.U. have given you the tools, the knowledge, and the critical thinking skills to take on these challenges and make the world a better place.”
However, the crowd reception for Sexton — particularly from faculty — seemed lukewarm.
The student speaker was Chelsea Garbell, who graduated summa cum laude from the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development and was a national finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Garbell was founder and president of Bridges: Muslim Jewish Interfaith Dialogue @ N.Y.U., which encouraged communication, understanding and friendship among Jewish and Muslim students. Under her leadership, Jewish and Muslim students rebuilt tornado-damaged homes in Alabama and Missouri.
A highlight of the commencement was a video of the song “Diamond In The Sky” sung, shot and produced by N.Y.U. students.