Sustaining Yale

May 30, 2017

This past weekend marked the first of two reunions organized this year by the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA). My wife Marta and I had the pleasure of meeting Yale alumni from across the generations—from the Classes of 1937 to 2002. Next weekend, graduates from the 1960s, 1970s, and the new millennium will return to campus for their reunion festivities. 

Although it may be true that our “bright college years” are “the shortest, gladdest years of life,” Yale graduates can return to campus and relive, however briefly, “those happy golden bygone days” during reunions. Old friends reminisce with their classmates and make new friends from other eras. I always enjoy seeing alumni reconnect with each other and with the Yale of today. 

Colleges and universities receive plenty of media coverage, but there is no substitute for experiencing Yale firsthand. The best way to understand Yale today is to return to campus and see the great work of our faculty, staff, and students. 

Faculty discussions provide an excellent window into current scholarship and the “big questions” being addressed on campus. From lectures on health and aging to the U.S. Constitution, alumni hear from some of Yale’s most renowned faculty members. 
Several science investigators shared exciting research that is taking place in their laboratories. For example, David Evans ’92, Professor of Geology & Geophysics and head of Berkeley College, discussed how his lab is measuring magnetism in rocks to map ancient geographies across billions of years. Mark Saltzman, Goizueta Foundation Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and head of Jonathan Edwards College, explained how biomedical engineers are helping to develop targeted drug therapies with fewer side effects.

Although many Yale traditions remain strong, reunions also reflect important changes taking place on campus. As I walked through various reunion tents, I noticed that our volunteers were not handing out bottles of water; instead, there were large jugs dispensing water. This simple change has yielded impressive results: we reduced our use of plastic bottles from 14,000 in 2011 to zero bottles just two years later. Our dining staff also use compostable dinnerware, cups, and flatware, and almost all food served is sustainable. This year, the Yale Office of Sustainability awarded our reunion program its platinum-level “green” certification.

“Greening” reunions helps Yale achieve its sustainability goals. I am grateful to everyone—staff, faculty, students, and hundreds of volunteers—who makes these weekends so successful, as well as for their efforts to make reunions “greener” and our campus more sustainable.

Our alumni sustain Yale year-round—by taking part in events around the world, cheering for the Yale Bulldogs, and supporting this university in so many ways. At reunions, we welcome them back to campus to experience Yale again. As historian George W. Pierson ’26, ’33 Ph.D. wrote, “Our Yale is at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends.” Let this always remain so. Boola, boola!