Thinking Like a Fox

August 28, 2017

I have spent my entire career—indeed my whole life—in schools. Yet there is still no feeling quite like the beginning of a new academic year. Like many educators here at Yale and across the country, I eagerly anticipate the moment when our students return to campus or arrive for the first time.

On Saturday, I welcomed the Class of 2021 and their families in a ceremony in Woolsey Hall. In my address, I urged our newest students in Yale College to emulate the lives of our three new college namesakes—Benjamin Franklin, Pauli Murray, and Grace Hopper. These three individuals—separated in time and space, unique and distinguished in so many ways—share “fox-like” attributes. They were curious and interested in a wide variety of issues and subjects, and they followed winding intellectual paths during their remarkable lifetimes. I encouraged our students in Yale College to do the same. And, following in the footsteps of Ben, Pauli, and Grace, I asked them to listen to others, engage with challenging ideas, and even be willing to change their minds. 

Marvin Chun, the new dean of Yale College, spoke about another essential ingredient: the importance of mentors. With humility and good humor, he shared his own story—even his grades from his first year in college—and explained how his mentors had helped him not only find his academic footing but also his path in life. Although he went on to encourage the class of 2021 to find their own mentors in Yale College, his message resonates with us all, regardless of how many years we have been in school or on the job.

Curiosity and an openness to new ideas allow us to embark on new chapters—like the start of a new school year—with fresh perspectives. Students and members of faculty and staff across campus are preparing for the year ahead. We are all working hard to accomplish the essential work that sustains this university. With much gratitude, I wish you the best as we begin another wonderful, exciting year at Yale.