Yale College Opening Assembly – Class of 2023

Yale College Opening Assembly – Class of 2023

August 30, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


(organ playing) – Good morning. Class of 2023, transfer
students, Eli Whitney students, and visiting international
students, welcome to Yale. (audience applauding) I am Marvin Chun, Dean of Yale College, and I’m so pleased to be with you here on this beautiful morning. Joining me onstage to greet you are President Peter
Salovey, Provost Ben Polak, Secretary Kim Goff-Crews, Faculty of Arts and
Sciences Dean Tamar Gendler, Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley, Athletic Director Vicky Chun, the Yale Alumni Association’s Executive Director Weili Cheng, officers of the university, heads and deans of residential colleges, and deans and members of the
Yale College Dean’s Office. Family members and friends
who are here today, we extend our warm welcome to you and we thank you for
everything that you have done to support and guide these young adults. In my role as Dean, one of my jobs is to support President Salovey’s mission for Yale to be the research university most committed to teaching and learning. What that means for you students is that I am here to make sure that you get the best of
what Yale has to offer, in the classroom or outside of it. A good part of what you will learn here will come from the faculty, who will teach you in the
classes you will take, while much will come from the people sitting here with you today,
your peers and colleagues. Taken together, these teachers of yours will give you the liberal education that is Yale’s hallmark. By the time you graduate, you will have furnished your mind in the broadest possible sense, not by pursuing narrow, specialized study, but instead by searching
for new knowledge, new perspectives, new ways
of looking at the world, and by adding your own. If you make good use of this place, you will discover fields of knowledge that are completely new to you, that you haven’t even heard of, and you will open yourselves
to them and learn from them. And when you get to know your colleagues sitting around here today, something else you will discover is that you come from every
possible walk of life, bringing with you every imaginable talent, every experience, every world view. Learn from them too. As a community, you are politically liberal, conservative, or moderate. You are people with and
without disabilities. You observe different religions, or none. Roughly two out of three of you attended public high schools. About one out of five of you are eligible for Federal Pell grants. Over one out of six of you are first-generation college students. About one out of nine of you are international students
from over 50 countries. More than half of you
identify as students of color. And you are of all
genders and sexualities. We should take none of this for granted. Think for a minute that
for most of Yale’s history, as recently as 50 years ago, even when U.S. was able to
send humans to the moon, women were not allowed to receive an education in Yale College. I think of my mother, who
along with my late father immigrated to California from South Korea. Now one of the world’s
most prosperous countries, and here’s why I get to ask, how many of you know BTS? Okay, good, I think we’re good, see. No hands raised behind me, right? (audience laughing) South Korea was one of the
poorest countries back then. But even in the 1950s, right after a devastating war, my mom was able to receive
a college education from Korea’s version of Yale. And without the opportunities
afforded to her, I know that I would not be standing here as a faculty member of this great place. You are coming to Yale as it
marks a historic milestone, the anniversary of 50 years of
coeducation in Yale College, and 150 years of coeducation in the graduate and professional schools. This year the university honors the monumental value that coeducation has brought to our institution, not only because coeducation was such a huge step forward in creating
today’s Yale community, but also because it went to the heart of a Yale liberal education, open to all people as
well as to all ideas. You will hear the word excellent and diversity together
here, again and again. At Yale they go hand-in-hand. If you look at Yale’s history, as its excellence has continued and grown every decade, every year, so has the diversity of its
students, staff, and faculty. The connection between
excellence and diversity has long captured the
attention of researchers who study collective intelligence, and who investigate whether groups are smarter than the individuals in them. Carnegie Mellon Management
Professor Anita Woolley studies teams and what makes them stronger found that it is not
the group’s average IQ, or even the IQ of its smartest member, and it isn’t the number,
it is not the number of extroverted members or
the group’s motivation. What she found, and here
she is in her own words, was that the individual
skills most critical for collective intelligence are those that enhance the ability of group members to collaborate effectively, or the skills that enrich the collaboration by bringing a sufficient diversity of perspectives. These are the conditions
of collective intelligence, and what they do is they predict a group’s superior performance on a
wide range of complex tasks. This could mean playing checkers, brainstorming possible uses of a brick, optimizing choices in
behavioral economic games, or even competing in League of Legends. Yale embraces the idea of
collective intelligence, which depends on people
who bring diverse ways of looking at the world, and who know how to communicate and collaborate. And here you are. You have earned a place in this community, which is itself a team,
because of the promise you have shown in what
you will contribute to it, and to the communities and teams you will join after you graduate. And as you think about how to do that, you can start by asking how to maximize your collective intelligence, by leveraging your different backgrounds, views, talents, and interests, and how you can enhance
your social sensitivity as a community, by learning how to see the world
through each other’s eyes. As a psychology professor
let me demonstrate one way you might start out on this road, and so here please pull
out your printed program and inside you’ll find an insert. Take it out, and you’ll see the insert with the big image on it, okay? So look at the image, the
first image on the top, and then name out-loud,
when I say go, what you see. Okay, go. (audience speaking aloud) Good, thank you. If you first saw a duck, raise your hand. Okay and if you first saw
a rabbit, raise your hand. Okay, half-half are pretty
evenly split, alright. And then now you can
try seeing it both ways. If you saw it as a duck, try to see it as a rabbit, and vice versa. If you have trouble seeing it both ways, anyone having trouble seeing it both ways? The admissions director is behind me. So this simple demonstration shows a fundamental
principle of psychology, that we all experience
the world differently. Our perceptual interpretations,
as in the case you just saw, but also our memories, our thoughts, our attitudes, are all
constructs of the mind, and they differ across people, even when considering the same
object, event, or evidence. Yale will expose you to views
different from your own, and when it does, you can
start by finding common ground with people when you
don’t agree with them. So before you put away your insert, take one more look at it, this
time on the bottom carton, and you can see that there are
two armies facing each other. Think of U.S.-China trade relations. And then look at the army on the bottom, and at the front of
that army on the bottom there’s a general who’s
looking back at his troops, and he’s urging them
with the following comic, with the following caption. There can be no peace until they renounce their rabbit god and accept our duck god. Okay so imagine what happens when the opposing troops realize
they are serving the same flag. And so you can ask
yourself, what is my flag? So here’s our final exercise. Please shout out the
answer to the following, your first quiz at Yale. What’s the research
university most committed to teaching and learning,
please shout it out. – [Audience] Yale! – Good, you are all now
members of Bulldog Nation, with the sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and alumni, faculty, and staff, and with each other,
you have common ground, an immediate shared bond
that is more than tribal. It goes deeper to the
intellectual curiosity and the commitment to community that have brought you all here. You have arrived at a place
that values difference and actively seeks it out. It is how professors and
students find and test knowledge, and it is how the university
equips its students to become leaders and
citizens of the world. But here the value of seeking difference is even more than that. It is taken as a article of faith, it is the coin of the realm, it is one of the bedrock principles that governs us in and
out of the classroom. And so let me assume that you came here not only to find knowledge, but to live lives of consequence, and if that’s true, you have
come to the right place. And as you take your first steps, then, you will need to become
comfortable with difference, not just to accept it or
tolerate it, but to insist on it. You will find guides everywhere, in the classes you will take, the activities you will join, and most of all, again, from
the people sitting around you right now, your peers and classmates. All of them are part of the liberal education that awaits you. Your life at Yale has started, and in just a few days you
will enrolling in classes, joining organizations, or
training with your teams. And as you do that, here’s
what I hope you will do. If you are a duck person,
go find those rabbit people, and find common ground with them. If you are studying all duck courses, go find the rabbit courses, and see what they can teach you. And when you find yourself
rallying around a duck flag, take a good hard look at the
rabbit flag across the field, and the people rallying around it, and remember that you are all Yalies. Members of the Class of
2023, transfer students, Eli Whitney students, visiting
international students, you all belong to Yale and
Yale belongs to you, welcome. (audience applauding) (organ playing) (audience singing) (audience singing to organ music) – Good morning. To all Eli Whitney
students, transfer students, visiting international students, and first-year Yale College
students, welcome to Yale. (audience applauding) On behalf of my colleagues here onstage, I extend a warm greeting
to the families here today, and thank you all for joining us. Please remember these first moments of your loved one’s college
career are very special, and I’m glad you can
share them with us today. Usually in an opening address, university presidents tell undergraduates that they are amazing individuals, selected from the among the most talented high school students in the world today. This is of course true. But it is not the point I wanna make. Instead, I want to encourage you to approach college unimpressed
by how impressive you are. Have more questions than answers. Admit to being puzzled or confused. Be willing to say I don’t know, but I want to find out. And most important, have the courage to say perhaps I am wrong
and others are right. This is how you will learn the most from your teachers and classmates. And this is why we have
all come to this place. We are here to ask questions, questions about one another, and about the world around us. We are here at Yale to nurture
a culture of curiosity. This summer I read a story
about Isidor Isaac Rabi, one of the country’s most
extraordinary scientists. He remembered an important
question his mother asked him. Brought to this country as an infant, Rabi conducted research
into particle beams that led to the development of the MRI, and many other scientific advances, and he won the Nobel
Prize for Physics in 1944. Rabi’s parents ran a small
grocery store in Brooklyn. His mother had no formal education. The other moms, he remembered,
asked their children every afternoon if they had
learned anything in school. Not my mother, he recalled. She always asked me a different question. Izzie, she would say, did you
ask a good question today? He believed her reminder
to ask good questions helped set him on a path to become a distinguished scientist. So to all the families here today, when you call your Yale students, when you ask them about their classes, and their roommates, and the food, remember also to ask them
about their questions. Imagine all the great discoveries that have come from asking a question. From Newton’s theory of gravity to the astonishing breakthroughs
in quantum science, some of which are happening here at Yale. When a musician experiments
with a new melody, or a sociologist observes
a social interaction, they ask why, and what would happen if. Their curiosity lights up our world and points us in new directions. Self discoveries come
from asking questions too. What do you learn when you ask yourself why did I believe that,
why do I believe that? Or why did I do that? I think of these lines from
the poet Billy Collins: the trouble with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry. I would say the same of asking questions. One leads to another, which
opens doors to still another. Sometimes our questions
lead to a dead-end. We realize the question we asked wasn’t quite right, and a door closes. But along the way we
have learned something. Perhaps in the future, we
will ask better questions. In a well-known scene in
the movie, The Pink Panther, Inspector Clouseau checks
into a hotel in Germany. He sees a Dachshund in the lobby, and he asks the hotel
owner, “Does your dog bite?” The owner replies, “No.” When Clouseau goes to pet the
dog, it bites his hand, hard. Shocked, he tells the hotel owner, “I thought you said
your dog doesn’t bite.” The owner replies, “That is not my dog.” (audience laughing) Inspector Clouseau simply
hadn’t asked the right question. So years ago I taught an
undergraduate seminar, and one of the questions
on the application to the course, was, “What
is the most important thing you’ve changed your mind about?” We were surprised that quite
a few students reported that they had not changed their
minds about anything at all. So we decided to accept to the class only students who had changed their minds about something important. Be willing to change your mind. Ask questions and embrace
Yale’s culture of curiosity. Be open to different
viewpoints and experiences. See them as opportunities to learn, even if sometimes you get your hand bit. Now I’m a social psychologist, and as a graduate student at Yale, my curiosity was sparked
by the study of emotions, and by a question my undergraduate
advisor had asked me. “Peter, why do you think
humans even have emotions? “What do they do for us?” One of my major areas
of research ever since has been emotional intelligence. In our earliest work we
described emotional intelligence as a set of skills that one can learn, that helps you extract the information, the data, contained in emotions, either your own or somebody else’s. After a few years of research, it was obvious to me and my collaborators that we weren’t asking
exactly the right question. We needed to be able to show
that emotional intelligence predicted outcomes in life: the
ability to form friendships, succeed in school, work as
part of a team and the like. Trouble was, how do you go about measuring the skills of
emotional intelligence? We asked ourselves a series of questions, starting with, well how are
personal characteristics typically measured by psychologists? The answer is by asking
people to rate themselves. These are called self reports. But this led to approaches
that disappointed us. How would someone know if
they were the kind of person who is especially good
at identifying emotions or understanding them, or
managing them, or using emotions. Perhaps thinking that you had spectacular emotional intelligence was a sign of not having
much of it at all. So that door closed. We asked ourselves another question. If we wanted to know if someone possessed the skills of a great baseball player: hitting, throwing, catching the ball, running bases effectively. How confident would we be of self-report? The answer is not very. All ball players think they’re
going to be the next A-Rod. When I was a child, I thought I’d be the next Carl Yastrzemski
on the Boston Red Sox, while my brother played in the backyard. But in fact, I barely got out of Little League with my pride intact. Why would emotional intelligence be any different than baseball? If we wanted to know
whether someone had high EI, we needed to assess these
skills as abilities, and what would an ability measure of emotional intelligence even look like? So asking ourselves these questions led to an answer that made more sense. And our ability-based measure
of emotional intelligence has now been used in hundreds of studies. Knowing that we didn’t
have all the answers, and taking an inquisitive,
curious attitude allowed us the opportunity to create
something relatively new. So what questions will you ask? What will spark your curiosity? Not long ago, I received an email from a very proud Yale College parent. He told me about his son, who
heard 77 different speakers during his first year at Yale, 77! He had learned from thinkers and leaders across the political spectrum. He had attended events organized by a wide range of campus organizations. What a way to spend a first year. Could you do this and not change your mind about
something important? And it turns out this student is also very good at asking questions. He’s doing a project
where in the past year he has interviewed dozens of people, scholars, and activists, and
journalists, and entrepreneurs, from many different sectors. Like so many students, faculty, and staff, he is nurturing a culture
of curiosity at Yale. Indeed the Yalies who have come before you have asked a dazzling array of questions. I think of the pioneers of coeducation. Fifty years ago in 1969, 588 women came to study in Yale College. They entered what had long
been an all-male institution. And they asked questions that
hadn’t been asked before. We will commemorate this milestone along with the 150 anniversary of women entering Yale’s School of
Art, throughout this year. I think of Margaret Warner, Class of 1971, an award-winning journalist, she knows how to ask brilliant questions and has reported from
war zones for decades, witnessing history first-hand, trying to understand our world. I think too of Alice
Young, also Class of 1971. She looked around this campus and asked, why weren’t there more
students from public schools? So she became an ambassador for Yale back in her home stage of Hawaii, an she was one of the founders of the Asian American Students Alliance, which also celebrates its
50th anniversary this year. And we remember other
important anniversaries and the curious students who
are part of these changes. In 1969, thanks to student efforts, the Afro-American Cultural Center, known as The House,
opened, and what is now the Department of African
American Studies was created. That same year, students established the Yale chapter of MEChA. And I believe we owe a debt of gratitude, a debt of gratitude to all
the courageous pioneers, throughout our history, who have made Yale what it is today. What questions will you ask? How will your questions transform Yale and improve the world? Your time at Yale is an
unparalleled opportunity to engage with a wide range of people, ideas, new experiences. More than at any other point in your life, you will have the means and opportunity to hear from and converse with world-renowned experts in many fields. You will have the chance
to create knowledge, through rigorous research,
and attend arts, literary, and athletic events that
challenge and inspire you. You will spend time with peers whose lives have been widely different from your own. What if you nurtured your own curiosity by pushing yourself beyond the
familiar and the comfortable? What would that look like for you? It might mean attending a talk on a topic you don’t know much about, or by someone who doesn’t
share your beliefs. Or conducting research
in a Yale laboratory or collaborating on an exhibit at one of our amazing museums. Or perhaps your curiosity will be sparked by having coffee with a classmate who comes from a different
part of the world, or a different place on
the political spectrum. And when you do these things,
when you take advantage of the opportunities Yale makes possible, what questions will you ask? There is so much we don’t know. Let us embrace together our humility, our willingness to admit
what we have yet to discover. After all, if you knew all the answers, you would not need Yale. And if humanity knew all the answers, the world would not need Yale. So what questions will you ask today, tomorrow, the next day? And in the days, months, and years, after I have shaken your
hand at Commencement. Let me know, let me know what questions you’ve asked that have changed your life. Good luck, Class of 2023. (audience applauding) (Yale Glee Club singing) (Yale Glee Club singing) (audience applauding) – My beloved Yale family, as we ready ourselves to step out onto new ground, in this daunting yet
inspiring liminal space of the unknown next, we begin a poignant turn
of goodbyes and hellos that invite laughter, tears, challenge, choice, discovery, and pride. Let us go forth with deep
trust in certain knowledge, that in this place each and
every one of you are welcome, that in this place, we
will both stumble and soar, that in this place love surrounds us, beauty can surprise us. In this place light and truth awaits us. On this day and every day forward, may all that is holy shine upon us, and tenderly bless our every breath. May we go in Shalom, in Salam, in Shanti, may we go in peace. Let us begin. (organ playing) (bell music)