A jubilant crowd of students in purple gowns, joined by family and friends, packed much of Yankee Stadium Wednesday to celebrate their graduation from New York University and hear the commencement speaker, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

"This is awesome," she said, speaking from the covered podium behind second base, to loud cheers from the audience. "Pride captures the essence of my feelings."

Sotomayor, a Bronx native and Yankees fan, said that because she grew up blocks away from the old Yankee Stadium and once taught at NYU's School of Law, the event had double significance for her. In her brief speech, she extolled the energy and scale of New York City and told the students, "This city will challenge you to do big things. I hope you always carry its energy inside you."

She also told them to cultivate relationships with people because, "It's only in giving to others that you can find meaning and satisfaction in what you do."

Sotomayor was one of four people to receive honorary doctorates from the school Wednesday. Others included columnist David Brooks, Roman Catholic priest Patrick Desbois and biomedical scientist Charles Weissmann.

This year's student speaker, Long Island native Alexis Cohen, has been to Guatemala and Grenada as part of health outreach programs with NYU. She talked about the importance of a smile in opening up new opportunities as she prepares to be a dentist and get in the "smile management business."

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Smiles "transcend language barriers. When it hits you, you feel it almost instantly," she said, smiling brightly.

The ceremony, lit up by occasional shafts of sunlight breaking through the clouds, was the fifth Yankee Stadium graduation ceremony for NYU, which released its 180th class into the world. Many students, walking to their seats on the first floor of the stands said they felt bittersweet, celebrating their accomplishments but preparing to miss their friends.

"It's kind of a mixture of feelings. Happy that you completed something, but it's sad because you never know when you'll see these people again," said Hanna Hoffman, 23, from Great Neck, who is looking at medical schools. She will continue her education to be a doctor and is leaning toward attending Hofstra University's medical school.