A Culture of Curiosity

August 26, 2019

Welcome to Yale! I had many opportunities to say these words this weekend. On Saturday, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun and I joined the Yale College Class of 2023, Eli Whitney students, transfer students, visiting international students, and their loved ones in an opening ceremony in Woolsey Hall. The many smiling faces I saw—and hundreds of hands I shook—told me that a new academic year has begun.

We are at Yale to create a culture of curiosity—this is the message I shared with the newest members of the Yale community. Curiosity is essential to fulfilling Yale’s mission—to solving great challenges and achieving our greatest ambitions for ourselves and our society. And it all begins with asking questions.

Asking questions: what could be easier? But in fact, asking a question means admitting what we do not know. It can be a humbling experience. And for many Yale students who are used to answering questions—correctly!—it can be an even greater challenge. But on Saturday, I asked students to “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.’”

Our culture of curiosity begins in the classroom, of course, but it continues beyond it. In my remarks, I encouraged members of the Class of 2023 to take advantage of the many artistic, athletic, and cultural events on our campus. I urged them to attend talks by many different speakers, especially ones who do not share their views. I asked them to connect with peers who come from different backgrounds or different points on the political spectrum. All these activities provide opportunities to ask questions about ourselves and our complex world.

In his remarks, Dean Chun demonstrated to the audience how alike we are to one another in that we all experience the world differently, and he encouraged the incoming students to embrace the full range of ideas and viewpoints that they will encounter in their studies.

Yale’s culture of curiosity empowers us to seek out complicated problems and unknown corners of the universe. This work demands humility and patience, but the payoff is invaluable. Today, as in the past, Yalies are making spectacular discoveries, launching new businesses, leading with integrity, and advancing the common good. By asking questions, we are helping to fulfill our mission to improve the world today and for future generations.

I am confident our newest students will contribute in extraordinary ways to Yale. And as we begin another academic year, I ask you to join me in nurturing a culture of curiosity here at Yale, in our communities, and in the world. What questions will we ask, and answer, together?