Good afternoon, and welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining us for this wonderful occasion, as we mark one of the great milestones in Yale’s history.
Today we celebrate two magnificent structures, Benjamin Franklin College and Pauli Murray College. We just saw how these residential colleges have taken shape—quite rapidly, it would seem—rising up from the ground to become significant Yale landmarks. Their stunning architecture—Gothic yet modern—fits perfectly within our beautiful campus. They link us to Yale’s proud traditions while pointing us to an exciting future. These buildings, as splendid as they are, are only part of the story.
For today we celebrate not only brick and mortar, wood and stone, but courageous leadership, public service, and spectacular discoveries. We celebrate the prospects and potential of what a Yale College education can mean. We applaud the hundreds of talented Yalies who will call Franklin and Murray colleges home—this year, and in the years to come. And we express our enormous gratitude to friends who have made this historic moment possible.
Here I want to recognize four individuals who played such an important role in bringing us to this day: Charlie Johnson, Ed Bass, Len Baker, and Josh Bekenstein. From the beginning, Charlie, Ed, Len and Josh articulated a tremendous vision for this undertaking. They understood and appreciated what two new colleges could mean for our students and for Yale’s future. I thank them for their superb generosity, their vision, and their faith in Yale.
I am also indebted to Rick Levin, my predecessor, and his leadership team for proposing and planning this expansion of Yale College and for securing the lead gifts in support of it. At the time, Roland Betts was the Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation and was a tireless champion of this project with the other trustees.
We are now part of a major turning-point in the history of this university. The impact of our current expansion is comparable only to Yale’s growth during the era of coeducation in the late 1960s. Today, we are again at the cusp of a new era. We have substantially increased access to Yale, providing the very best undergraduate education of any research university in the world today. And we are strengthening our commitment to educating the leaders of tomorrow.
Starting this year, we will be able to offer a Yale College education to an additional 200 students in each class year. By increasing the size of Yale College by 15 percent in four years, Yale will prepare more students for lives of leadership and service. And we are fulfilling the promise of our original charter—to be a school “wherein Youth may be instructed in Arts & Sciences” and “be fitted for Public employment both in Church and Civil State.”
Within the walls of Franklin and Murray colleges, our students will open their minds to new ideas and embark on new paths. Most of all, we know that when they leave Yale, they will go on to make remarkable contributions to their professions and their communities, just as Yale’s alumni have for generations.
We can all take enormous pride in Yale’s past. Our alumni include five U.S. presidents; four U.S. secretaries of state; 18 Supreme Court Justices; numerous ambassadors, members of Congress, and foreign heads of state; countless authors and playwrights, actors and artists; business leaders, and distinguished scientists and inventors. As we look ahead, the world needs the leadership of Yale graduates more than ever before.
Right now, among the residents of Yale’s fourteen residential colleges, are the John Kerrys and Maya Lins of their generation. The Angela Bassetts, Bob Woodwards, and William F. Buckleys. Nobel laureates like John Franklin Enders, the father of modern vaccines, or the economist Paul Krugman. There are future Pulitzer Prize winners, CEOs, and perhaps even a university president as well.
We know they will be leaders in business, law, and the arts. They will make life-saving discoveries in science and medicine. They will create new knowledge and inspire others with their creativity and brilliance. They will lead and serve in their communities, here in the United States and around the globe. Whatever they do, at Yale and beyond, we know they will “improve the world today and for future generations,” in the words of Yale’s mission statement. That is the legacy of these stunning buildings—not merely the beauty they add to our campus, but the untold impact that these students, for generations to come, will have on our world.
The greatest illustration of this potential is in the lives of our namesakes, Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray. Benjamin Franklin—an amazing inventor, distinguished statesman, and tireless public servant—dedicated his life to improving the human condition. Pauli Murray—lawyer, scholar, civil rights activist, poet, and priest—was an ardent champion for the rights of all Americans and all people. Both were curious, driven individuals. They loved learning, and they believed in using human ingenuity to change the world.
Franklin’s many discoveries—from the lightning rod to bifocal glasses—improved people’s lives. His leadership during the age of independence shaped nearly every facet of this nation. Murray used her brilliant legal mind to fight discrimination in all its forms, leading movements for both civil rights and women’s rights. Today, Franklin and Murray remind us that access to education is a powerful lever for change.
Neither came by their educations easily. Both were born in humble circumstances.
Franklin, the fifteenth of seventeen children, the son of a candle and soap maker, enjoyed only two years of formal schooling. Yet he was one of the most eminent scientists of his time. He mastered several languages, and studied philosophy, religion, and morality. And the self-taught Franklin founded and generously supported several schools and colleges, making access to education available to countless others.
Murray, orphaned at a young age, a descendent of slaves and slaveholders, pursued her studies with unrelenting zeal. Rejected from the University of North Carolina on account of her race and from Harvard on account of her sex, she earned degrees from Hunter College, Howard University, Berkeley, and Yale. Then, after working in the law, and becoming a tenured professor at Brandeis, Murray decided to become a student again. At the age of 62, she entered seminary and was ordained as an Episcopal priest.
Like Franklin and Murray, students today come to Yale from a wide variety of backgrounds. They hail from every corner of the globe, and many make great sacrifices to get here. For Yale—long one of America’s great research universities— Yale reaches across borders, across whatever lines seek to divide and contain people, because knowledge and ideas must travel far and freely.
Benjamin Franklin, a cosmopolitan statesman who spent many years in England and Europe, understood this. He sent scholarly books to his friend, Yale president Ezra Stiles, for Yale’s library. Today, the Franklin Papers represent one of Yale’s greatest collections and a magnificent treasure—now accessible in digital form to scholars around the world.
Pauli Murray, two centuries later, had traveled to Ghana to teach law. But internal pressures in that new country, as well as her desire to contribute to the civil rights movement at home, led her back to the United States. She enrolled in Yale Law School to pursue a doctor of jurisprudence degree. The fruits of that decision—her scholarship and advocacy both at Yale and for years after—would reverberate around the world in advances for women and people of color.
In their shared commitment to education, understanding, and service to others, Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray exemplify Yale’s mission and our highest aspirations. For Yale educates women and men who write important chapters in the history of our nation and our world. Only years from now, when we see what the graduates of Franklin and Murray colleges have accomplished as scientists, inventors, artists, and leaders—only then will we be able to take the measure of what they have added to the sum of human achievement and happiness. I am confident that the results will be extraordinary.
As Franklin himself wrote, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Today we celebrate one of the finest investments in knowledge—and in the future—that has ever been made at Yale.
Thank you for all that you have invested in this stunning accomplishment.