Dedication of Grace Hopper College

Peter Salovey, President of Yale University
September 5, 2017

Welcome, everyone! Thank you for being here today as we dedicate Grace Hopper College.

First, I want to thank our distinguished guests who are here today. We are very pleased that the family of Rear Admiral Hopper—her nephew Roger Murray and his daughter Deborah—could be here today. And I want to extend our appreciation to Admiral John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations for the United States Navy, for joining us today. Thank you, Roger, Deborah, and Admiral Richardson for helping us mark this historic occasion. It is a great honor for us to have you here.

This afternoon we honor the life of Grace Murray Hopper—an extraordinary Yale graduate whose achievements spanned decades and changed the way we understand and use computers. We also reflect on what her life means for us today.

We know that our namesakes do not lie cold and still in the vast recesses of history. Their lives—their legacies—reach across the years and speak to us, sometimes with great force. What does Grace Hopper say to us, and to Yale, today?

First, she tells us that the examined life is the only life worth living. Propelled by an insatiable curiosity, Grace Hopper was always asking questions about the world around her. After Yale, where she received her master’s and Ph.D. in mathematics, she taught the subject at Vassar. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II, she wanted to serve her country. She enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to work on the world’s first computer, the MARK I. From that time forward, Grace Hopper was constantly imagining new problems for the computer to solve—new ways to use the enormous capabilities she envisioned for it.

Many people told her that computers could never do what she wanted them to do. It turns out, they were wrong. Over the next several decades she pioneered automatic programming and new word-based computer languages. She made it possible for ordinary people to use computers, not just mathematicians and engineers. She did all of this because she never stopped thinking. Her curiosity was truly endless.

Second, Grace Hopper teaches us to embrace change. “Humans,” she loved to say, “are allergic to change.” But she wasn’t. She encouraged her younger colleagues to take risks as well. She told them it was always “easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” By empowering them to think for themselves, she helped launch them on their own successful careers.

Hopper was at the vanguard of a new era. At a time when opportunities for women, especially in math and engineering, were extremely limited, she charted a remarkable course. She insisted on her place at the table, in the laboratory, and at the helm. As we celebrate the history of women at Yale—soon fifty years at Yale College and 150 years at the university—we recognize Grace Hopper’s trailblazing leadership and example.

Finally, Grace Hopper’s life speaks clearly to us about the importance of service. As a teacher, mentor, and distinguished naval officer, she served others and her country with courage and dedication. Hopper received dozens of honors and awards in her lifetime, but she said the “highest award” she would ever receive was the “privilege and responsibility of serving proudly in the United States Navy.”

Today, Rear Admiral Hopper calls each of us to discover a greater purpose—a calling worthy of our curiosity, talents, and creativity.

“I’ve always been more interested in the future than in the past,” she once said. Today, we also look to the future—to the future of Hopper College.

Here, students will live, learn, and challenge each other to lead lives of meaning and purpose. One day, like Grace Hopper, they will also change the world.