Graduates celebrating the conferring of their degrees

Brave, Persistent, and Nimble, the YSE Class of 2022 is Ready to Defy the Odds

After facing “the toughest challenge in a generation,” the YSE Class of 2022 graduated May 23 with a unique sense of community and the will to lead.

Posing a question to her classmates on Commencement Day, Gillian Sawyer ’22 MEM asked: Do you feel better or worse about the world after your time at the Yale School of the Environment?

After two years of a global pandemic, political and social unrest, and ever-growing environmental challenges, the answer seemed obvious. Sawyer, however, demurred.

“In spite of it all, I feel better because I have seen all of you in action,” said Sawyer, one of three class speakers. “We are 150 innovators and altruists going out into the world against significant odds — and I think our odds are pretty good.”

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2022 Commencement Highlights

The Class of 2022 — the School’s 121st graduating class —was celebrated Monday at Yale University’s Commencement, first with a ceremony at Yale’s historic Old Campus with graduates of Yale College and more than a dozen graduate and professional schools, then later with a graduation ceremony on Kroon Courtyard.

This year’s class included 117 Master of Environmental Management graduates; 20 Master of Environmental Science; seven Master of Forestry; two Master of Forest Science; and 11 Doctor of Philosophy recipients.

We are 150 innovators and altruists going out into the world against significant odds — and I think our odds are pretty good.”

Gillian Sawyer  '22 MEM

Dean Indy Burke struck a similarly positive tone, saying she drew inspiration and hope for the future from YSE students when the issues of the day seemed overwhelming. “During the toughest challenge in a generation … you have showed true character. You are brave, you are persistent, and you are nimble,” she said.

Burke also stressed the importance of leadership, in particular, showing the quality of “humility.” She spoke of attending the memorial services for conservationist Thomas Lovejoy ’63 BA, ’71 PhD, where she was struck by the descriptions of his world-renowned environmental leadership. The secret, Burke said, was in his humility — how he could see the good in anyone or anything and build bridges to create mutual understanding.

Facing a world rife with division and distrust, Burke said the graduates will need to maintain a similar humility to become effective environmental leaders themselves.

“You are not only needed, you are expected to lead.”

In her remarks, class speaker Lovinia Reynolds ’22 MEM implored her classmates — “a tender and still-growing community of students [now alumni]” — to use their voices and their systems of support to become impactful leaders.

“We have alumni and mentors pulling us forward, and we have each other at our backs,” said Reynolds. “We can be a little bit louder now and use the room and space that we have earned. We need to take advantage of that.”

Class speaker Mario Alipio Soriano Jr. ’22 PhD urged his classmates to dig deep within themselves to become “heroes for our environment.”

“As we go out and build our professional niches, let us bring our curiosity and creativity to mobilize the science of a rapidly changing world into transformative public action,” he said.

Class of 2022 graduate hugging a family member
Victoria Mansfield ’22 MEM celebrating with family after the YSE Commencement ceremony. 

In addition to the conferral of degrees, the YSE Commencement also included the presentation of student awards. Elaine Lac ’22 MEM was awarded the Kroon Cup, presented annually to individuals and groups that embody stewardship and implement projects that engage and inspire the School community; Kieren Rudge ’22 MESc was presented with the Strachan Donnelley Award, which is awarded to the master's student whose combination of coursework, research and leadership best blends the humanities with ecology and evolutionary biology; Aditi Bhatkhande ’22 MEM and Tamira Litjens ’22 MEM received the Learning Community Leadership Award; Kate Meyer ’22 MEM and Anna Yu ’22 MEM were presented with the Teaching Fellow Award; and Liz Plascencia ’22 MEM received the inaugural Equity Champion Award from the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

The Mochen Liao Award, named in honor of doctoral student Mochen Liao who died in 2021, was presented to Isabel Harrison ’22 MEM, Talia Rubinitz ’22 MEM, Caroline James ’22 MBA and Michaela Kerxhalli-Kleinfield ’23 MEM for their work on life-cycle assessments of beverage containers.

OneYSE, a committee of YSE staff, faculty, and students tasked with building community at the School, also handed out several awards, including the inaugural Gordon Geballe Community Building Award. Geballe, associate dean for student international engagement and a lecturer in urban ecology, has been connected with Yale for more than 50 years and will be retiring this summer. Winners included Geballe, himself; Amy Badner, senior administrative assistant at the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale; and Tobias Muellers ’22 MESc.

All photos by Cloe Poisson.

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