Drawing a Larger Circle

May 21, 2018

Today I joined thousands of Yale students, their families and friends, alumni, faculty, and staff to celebrate one of the year’s most joyous occasions: commencement! 

To all graduates—as well as their legions of supporters—I offer my warmest congratulations. Whether you are graduating from Yale College, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, or one of our professional schools, today marks a tremendous milestone. I hope you enjoy the day’s festivities, taking time to thank those who have helped you arrive at this important juncture.

As our graduates say goodbye to Yale, they embark on new journeys. That is why we call it “commencement!” It is a time of new beginnings. So, for all of us, commencement presents an opportunity to consider our role as citizens and fellow human beings.

This past weekend, I spoke to members of the Yale College Class of 2018 and their families at the annual baccalaureate service in Woolsey Hall. I began by quoting the words of Pauli Murray, a 1965 graduate of Yale Law School and the namesake of one of our two new residential colleges. She wrote, “I intend to destroy segregation by positive and embracing methods. When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all mankind.”

In my remarks, I urged our graduates to follow Murray’s example—to draw circles that are large, inclusive, and vibrant. I also asked them to draw many circles by pursuing diverse interests and passions. And I shared a story about one of Murray’s more surprising relationships with another Yale alumnus, William S. Beinecke ’36. You can read more about their little-known correspondence in my Baccalaureate address

Each year, each day, each hour, we make choices about how we live our lives. We must decide whether we want to live in a “puny” way, in the words of Pauli Murray, or whether we want something more. When I think of Murray, Beinecke, and so many other inspiring Yalies, I am struck by their willingness to reach beyond their familiar environments and connect with others. They celebrate learning and curiosity. They reject fear and suspicion. They live courageous and empathetic lives. They make us hopeful that we, too, can draw large circles of belonging and inclusion, here on this campus and beyond our gates.

Today we celebrate our graduates. We wish them every success and happiness as they take their talents and gifts into a world that needs them. Congratulations, Class of 2018!