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Commencement 2024: ‘Lean into Life’

Jamie Saxon, Office of Communications | Tue May 28, 2024

At Princeton’s 277th Commencement on Tuesday, May 28, President Christopher L. Eisgruber thanked graduates for the “dazzling energy and imagination” they brought to the Princeton campus and wished them a future of joyful and meaningful engagement.

Eisgruber told the Class of 2024 — whose first year at Princeton was marked by remote learning due to COVID-19 — that they “breathed new life into our community” when they finally arrived on a campus whose strongly in-person culture was challenged by the pandemic.  

"We had to learn anew how to show up for one another and with one another," he said. "We had to recall, or reinvent, the rituals that knit us together and the practices that enable us to cooperate effectively with one another."

And with that, he said, every facet of campus life grew stronger. “You leaned into academic projects and extracurricular ones. You reconstructed, refreshed, and revitalized acapella groups, athletic teams, dance troupes, musical ensembles, religious and spiritual groups, debating societies, scientific laboratories, co-ops, eating clubs, entrepreneurial networks, the undergraduate and graduate student governments, the Triangle Show, the Princeton University Band, and countless other organizations.

Students at the Commencement Exercises at Princeton University

Graduate students settle in their seats before the ceremony begins.

“You pursued independent research in dozens of countries. You embodied the enduring value of a broad, liberal arts education by immersing yourselves at the intersection of disciplines — engineering and music, biology and literature, computer science and ancient texts — in the process forging meaningful new areas of research and scholarship.

“For that, I am grateful to you.”

Along with gratitude, he expressed his hope that they would carry these qualities with them into the wider world. "My wish for you is that you lean into life after Princeton, and into your communities wherever you are, with the same dazzling energy and imagination you showed while you were here."

Eisgruber delivered his remarks during a ceremony held at Princeton Stadium on a sunny and breezy day when the University awarded 1,295 undergraduate degrees and 609 graduate degrees. 

The event capped days of campus celebrations, including Reunions for alumni, Baccalaureate featuring an address by federal Judge Nusrat J. Choudhury of the Eastern District of New York and a 2006 graduate alumna, Class Day with a speech by actor Sam Waterston, and Hooding for master’s and doctoral degree candidates. The ROTC Commissioning ceremony was held Tuesday afternoon and included remarks by Christopher Cavoli '87, a four-star general and NATO's current Supreme Allied Commander Europe. 

In his Commencement address, Eisgruber expressed his hope that the graduating class would prioritize meaningful connection with others as they pursue their futures beyond FitzRandolph Gate.

"In a world where 'remote work' and 'remote everything' are possible and tempting, I hope you will continue to show up in person, fully and humanly," he said. "By doing so you will contribute to the world. You will also, I hope, find joy in what you do."

Students smiling, waving graduation hat

Princeton seniors share in the joy of the day.

He continued: "If I have any wisdom to offer you today, it is this: happiness often comes from collective human endeavor to produce something of value to society. The goals need not be grand or newsworthy."

"The happiness I am describing is what can make it so satisfying to be part of an athletic team, a theater group, a community garden, a religious congregation, or a workplace," he said. "The shared quest to achieve something worthwhile can be deeply meaningful even if it is not headline-making."

In her remarks, valedictorian Genrietta Churbanova, an anthropology major from Little Rock, Arkansas, encouraged her classmates never to take their education for granted, and to consider the question: "How do I pay my Princeton education forward?”

"My personal answer is to be a lifelong learner and to share the knowledge you gain," Churbanova said. "Wherever you are and whatever you do, do not stop learning. ... And, most importantly, always ask tough questions.” It is questions, she said, that “lie at the heart of learning.”

John Freeman, a classics major from Chicago, delivered the traditional Latin salutatory address, capturing with humor and classical references the experience of persevering through the particular challenges of COVID and the timeless rigors of a Princeton education.

"We survived late nights and terrifying deadlines,” he said in Latin translation. “We finished and defended our theses. ... So cheers, Great Class of 2024 and last generation of the coronavirus at Princeton! To say in the words of Julius Caesar: we came, we saw, we conquered!"

Family member cheering

Guests celebrate the graduating students with signs and smiles.

More Commencement highlights

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

  • Lamar Alexander, from Tennessee, who has served as a Republican governor, U.S. senator, U.S. Secretary of Education and president of the University of Tennessee;
  • Rubén Blades Bellido de Luna, a composer, vocalist, actor, activist, and multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winning salsa musician;
  • Dr. Paula A. Johnson, the first Black woman president of Wellesley College and a physician-scientist focused on improving the quality of care for women and women of color;
  • Randall Kennedy, a 1977 Princeton graduate and Harvard Law School professor whose work bridges law, race, civil rights, free expression, politics and history;
  • Retired General Mark A. Milley, a 1980 Princeton graduate and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who helped lead U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and elsewhere;
  • Joyce Carol Oates, one of America's most prolific authors and Princeton's Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor of the Humanities, Emeritus, who has taught generations of student writers; and
  • Terrence J. Sejnowski, a leader in the field of computational neuroscience and a pioneer in the development of neural networks and learning algorithms for artificial intelligence based on the brain.

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, many 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 their graduation. Family members and friends greeted them as they proudly passed through the gate, eager to capture the moment.

Visit Princeton’s YouTube channel to rewatch graduation events, and follow #Princeton24 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more highlights, photos and videos.

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  • Students throwing their graduation hats up in the air.
    The University awarded 1,295 undergraduate degrees and 609 graduate degrees during the ceremony on Tuesday, May 28.
Commencement Program next to flowers
Commencement capped off three days of celebratory end-of-year events for undergraduate and graduate degree candidates.Photo byTori Repp/Fotobuddy
Graduate male student at the Commencement ceremony at Princeton University
Princeton graduate students process into the stadium.Photo byMatthew Raspanti, Office of Communications
Princeton undergraduate students wave to family and friends after the ceremony.Photo byCharles Sykes, Associated Press Images for Princeton University
Students cheering
The “dazzling energy and imagination” this year's graduates brought to the Princeton campus will be part of their legacy, President Christopher L. Eisgruber said in his Commencement remarks.Photo byCharles Sykes, Associated Press Images for Princeton University