Marta and I are thrilled to join you to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the House and honor its founders: Donald Ogilvie, Class of 1968; Armstead Robinson, Class of 1969, and Glenn de Chabert, Class of 1970.
This moment is even more meaningful after the challenges we faced together through the pandemic. It is so heartwarming to be here in person with you.
I see many in this room who are Yale Medalists and who have committed wholeheartedly to building the House. To those who have contributed to the vibrant life of the House, thank you for your enduring dedication.
You have created a sustainable center that has gone on for over a half century. You have enriched the academic life of this university, and enhanced the breadth and excellence of our teaching, research, and scholarship. And I want to especially thank Risë Nelson for her exemplary leadership of the House.
Risë came to Yale as a New Haven native and understood the spirit of the House. I know from day one, she approached her role as director with a vision of “Roots, rebirth, and renaissance.” She created programs to help students and members of the Yale community understand and engage with the history of the House and make it a treasured part of our lives. She ensured that students could experience the power of community throughout their journey at Yale.
Launching student outreach and leadership opportunities, city engagement initiatives, and so many other social justice and service programs, she has helped to ensure the House’s renaissance. And she has reminded all of us that the House was born out of revolution—a revolution of Black achievement and excellence for the House, for Yale, and for communities around the world in every sector.
As many of you know, Risë has taken on a new leadership role for Yale, as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the University Library. She is expanding the work she has done for the House to other areas of the university.
I am excited about the work she will do with our students and community in this new position. She has built a strong foundation for her successor and ensured the future success of the House. Everyone, would you please join me in thanking Risë for her service to the House and to Yale and for organizing the 50th anniversary celebration?
This evening is meaningful for so many reasons. The Bouchet Ball and Awards Program recognizes the remarkable contributions of Black faculty, staff, alumni, community members, and students from across the university.
At a time when the spirit of division in our country and around the world seems to be growing, it is important for us to be together to honor the spirit of the scholar and teacher Edward Alexander Bouchet. He graduated from Yale College in 1874. And he received his Ph.D. in 1876, becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in the United States.
Edward Bouchet was an extraordinary scholar, devoted teacher, and community advocate. His legacy reminds us of the long history and contributions of Black members of the Yale community. These contributions have not always been remembered or honored as they should be, which is why this year’s celebrations are especially significant.
This weekend, the entire Yale community marks the 50th anniversary of the Afro-American Cultural Center. Founded by student leaders in 1969, it was the first Black cultural center in the Ivy League. From its very beginning, the House was dedicated to asking questions and seeking truth. Its founding is linked to the establishment of Yale’s African American Studies Program, also one of the first in the nation. And it occurred at a time of crisis in the United States.
Of course, we are now in another time of great change and turmoil. As we reflect on the 50-year history of the House and the much longer history of African Americans at Yale, we must acknowledge some difficult truths. This institution, much like our nation and our world, has not always understood or appreciated the great contributions of Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni. There has been silence and erasure where there should have been gratitude and recognition. And that is why these anniversaries are important. They give us an opportunity to hear and listen to the multitude of voices and experiences that have always been part of Yale.
We know that we still have much to learn about this history, and much to learn from the people who lived it. So much of this history is here with us today. It lives in the stories we tell one another and in the memories of alumni and friends. And that history is woven into the House traditions that our students carry on.
This history—Yale’s history—must be remembered because it has much to teach us about our present moment and our future.
Over the past 50 years, the House and its people have made history by looking to the future. They have set ambitious goals. They have opened our campus and classrooms to a greater diversity of people and ideas. They have called for deeper research into and teaching about the lives and experiences of people of African descent. And they worked hard to build a “beloved community,” here on our campus and beyond.
Tonight, as we honor Edward Bouchet and the rich legacy of Black and African American students, alumni, faculty, staff, and neighbors at Yale, we look to the future with optimism. We take inspiration from the courage and vision of those who came before us. And we commit to carrying on their work, affirming the principles that have long guided the people of Yale: that knowledge and new ideas are essential to solving the world’s great challenges and that service and leadership are at the core of Yale’s mission.
The House symbolizes the vibrant legacy left by those students of the 1960s and 1970s. I look forward to the work we will do together to build on that legacy. Our collaboration and understanding will advance our search for light and truth.
We know that this search, this commitment to lux et veritas, is stronger and more successful when we open our doors wider and invite all to contribute. Our shared aspirations demand the best from all of us. And they ensure that the people of Yale will continue to examine the world as it is and imagine what it could be.
In commemorating the past 50 years, we find so much to celebrate and honor as we carry on this work for the benefit of future generations. Thank you for being here tonight. And thank you for all you do on behalf of Yale, our communities, and our world.