In emotional ceremony, Calhoun dining hall named after Roosevelt Thompson '84

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Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, Calhoun Head of College Julia Adams, and President Peter Salovey are pictured with members of Roosevelt Thompson’s family under the portrait of the late student that now hangs in the Calhoun dining hall.

Dozens of members of the extended Yale community gathered in Calhoun College on the evening of Nov. 10 to remember, celebrate, and honor the life of the late Roosevelt “Rosey” Thompson ’84.

In a ceremony that featured speeches from Thompson’s brothers and former classmates, Julia Adams, Calhoun’s head of college, officially renamed the dining hall after Thompson.

“We used to have the loudest, most boisterous, mostly civil conversations here, and then Rosey, with the precision of a surgeon, would make a wise, fact-based argument, and we’d all say ‘huh’ and move onto the next topic,” said Thompson’s friend and fellow Calhoun classmate Errol Crook ’84 to the crowd gathered in the dining hall. “It was really the center of our Yale education, so I can think of no better place to name after Rosey.”

Thompson died in a car accident on his way back to campus after spending spring break with his family in Arkansas on March 22, 1984 at age 22. Due to his hard work, activity, and friendship, he is remembered 32 years later by friends, family, and a former United States president as one of the most promising young people in a generation.

“It was clear to anyone who spent time with Rosey that he was remarkable.”

— President Bill Clinton ’73 J.D.

“It was clear to anyone who spent time with Rosey that he was remarkable,” said Bill Clinton ’73 J.D. in a letter delivered to President Peter Salovey on the morning of the ceremony. Thompson spent several summers as an intern for Clinton, who was then governor of Arkansas. “When he won the Rhodes scholarship, it must’ve been the easiest decision the selection committee ever made,” Clinton noted.

From winning the Rhodes scholarship to quietly leading dining hall discussions, Thompson was an “ordinary person who did extraordinary things,” Crook said in his speech. At Little Rock Central High School, he was the first black student body president, an Arkansas state all-star football player, and a National Merit Scholar. At Yale, he double-majored in economics and political science, earning rare admission to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year. He worked at New Haven’s City Hall and tutored at local public schools, all while excelling on the football field as an offensive lineman at a height of just 5’ 7’’. Most notable to those who knew him, however, was his humility, said Salovey.

“My understanding is that Rosey would never list all of these accomplishments for himself, so I’ll do it for him,” said the President in his speech.

Thompson’s younger brother, Lee, was stationed at a military base in Groton, CT, during Rosey’s college years. He recalled late nights spent with Rosey and his friends, after which Rosey would get up at five or six in the morning to go study in the library.

“I don’t know how he did that,” Lee said, “but he always had time for everybody. Even when he had so much going on, he always made time for people.”

Thompson’s other brother, Chris, emphasized the importance of names, saying that he hoped Roosevelt Thompson dining hall would inspire generations of students to make an impact, no matter how small.

“You, individually, can make an impact, and you don’t have to wait until you complete school to do it,” Chris said. “Rosey is proof of that.”

After the ceremony concluded, Thompson’s extended family gathered on the stage in front of a new portrait of Thompson for a group photo. The woodcut portrait, which depicts Thompson with his signature mustache and glasses, was created by artist Mirjam Brückner. At the bottom of the portrait, Brückner included an image of an apple blossom, the Arkansas state flower, and a mockingbird, the Arkansas state bird and a symbol of human rights.

In the midst of the ceremony, another of Thompson’s close friends from Calhoun, Bryan Blaney ‘84, implored the crowd not to dwell on what could have been, but to take inspiration from what was.

“Rosey had the ideas and talent to make great changes — we’re all convinced that, if he had lived, he would’ve been the first black president,” Blaney said, eyes welling with tears. “I can’t do what Rosey would’ve done, but I can do a small part of what he would’ve done. And if enough people do that, the whole world would benefit.”