New graduate students assured a time of academic freedom, friends, and support

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(Photo by Harold Shapiro)

Although they hail from 57 different countries and bring their own diverse interests and perspectives to Yale, the entering students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences all share one common trait, noted the school’s dean, Lynn Cooley, at a matriculation ceremony on Aug. 25. 

“You are driven by curiosity to learn more, by the thrill of discovering the truth, and by the desire to stretch your imagination and create new knowledge,” she told the students and their family members, who gathered for the ceremony in Sprague Hall.

Cooley and President Peter Salovey welcomed Yale’s newest graduate students at the event, telling the 632 matriculants that they are an especially talented and diverse group about to embark on a special experience: having the freedom, support, and the resources “to focus on intellectual pursuits with relatively few distractions,” said Cooley.

The students were selected from some 10,000 applicants. They come from every continent except for Antarctica, causing Salovey to joke at the ceremony that Graduate School admissions officers need to beef up their recruiting efforts on that continent. The majority of the new graduate students (317) are from the United States, followed by 140 from China, 21 from India, 18 from South Korea, and 10 from Canada. Most (462) of new students are pursuing doctoral degrees; the remaining 170 students are master’s degree candidates. They come from 310 different institutions of higher learning. 

Salovey reflected on his own time as a Yale graduate student, recalling how when he came here in 1981 from Stanford University, he had no idea how Yale would shape his personal and professional life. He told the students that he chose to treat his time as a doctoral student in psychology doing what he wanted to do after he earned his graduate degree: writing papers, performing experiments, and learning from and collaborating with colleagues. He said that rather than viewing his time as a “dress rehearsal” for what came later, he saw it as “Act 1 of the rest of my life,” and he recommended the new students think the same of their new experiences.

He went on to tell the new students that they just might meet the love of their lives on campus, as he met his wife Marta Moret while the two were graduate students serving on the Graduate and Professional Student Senate — he as president and Moret as vice president. He urged

them to take on leadership and civic roles by being involved in student government, and spoke to them about the importance of making use of the “treasures of the world” to which they have access to through the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Center for British Art, Sterling Memorial Library, the Peabody Museum of Natural History, and more. Noting that Yale is one of the few universities in the country with four schools focused on the arts (Music, Drama, Art, and Architecture), Salovey also recommended students delight in the many musical performances and artistic offering on the campus.

Salovey told the graduate students they would do well to “explore Yale beyond your own departments,” noting that that there are a wealth of services — ranging from dissertation boot camps to the Center for Teaching and Learning to the Office of Career Strategy — readily available to them. 

“I hope you will also think of the City of New Haven — Yale’s home city — as your city as well,” Salovey told the Graduate School’s newest students, noting the plethora of hiking trails, restaurants, and other amenities in the city, including “the best pizza in North America and maybe even the world.” There is also a range of opportunities for public service in New Haven, the Yale president noted.

Salovey ended his address to the students noting that the late Yale historian George Pierson ’26, ’33 Ph.D. described Yale as “at once a tradition, a company of scholars, and a society of friends,” and said it was his favorite descriptive phrase for the place. 

 “I welcome you to Yale,” he remarked.

Cooley echoed Salovey’s call for students to experience the fullness of Yale and its resources, saying that the university’s “collegial and collaborative tradition” sets it apart.

In her address, Lynn Cooley told the new graduate students that they will have to become comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. (Photo by Harold Shapiro)

“It won’t take you long to make friends,” she told the students.

For all of the resources and support at their disposal, said Cooley, the students will also “be challenged.”

“If graduate studies were easy, we’d be having this ceremony in a much larger room,” she said, adding that graduate school will be much different than anything they have previously experienced. As the new students transition to doing independent research, said Cooley, whether in their studies or in the laboratory, they will have periods when their direction feels uncertain. “You will have to take risks and try new approaches,” she commented. “Sometimes your approaches will work and sometimes they won’t. But do not lose heart, you will always have the help of a friend, colleague, or faculty [member].”

Nevertheless they will have to become comfortable “inhabiting” periods of uncertainty and ambiguity as graduate students, Cooley said in her address.

“If you are stuck, do not panic. Look for another way or reach out for help. Don’t be shy because Yale is full of incredibly generous people ready, willing, and eager to talk to you and to help you in whatever way we can.”

Cooley said she is grateful to the university for its investment in graduate school education, including full financial support for graduate students.

“We’re glad you chose Yale,” she told the new students to much applause. “We’re glad you’re here.”

At the ceremony, the new students were also treated to a performance by The Citations, the a cappella graduate student singing group, which entertained the audience with its rendition of “Scarborough Fair” and a song called “Chandelier.” The singers also amused the new students with a dramatic version of Queen’s “Somebody To Love.”  The Yale Brass Ensemble played processional pieces. Following the ceremony, the new students gathered for a reception on Cross Campus Lawn, where they met and mingled some more with new friends.

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