Class Reflection: How to spot a Yalie

Larry Fulton ’19 speaks at the pdium on Class Day
(Photo credit: Michael Marsland)

This Class Reflection was read by Larry Fulton ’19 of Jonathan Edwards College during the Class Day program on May 19.

My friend Mo claims that he can spot a Yalie anywhere. He said, “I saw the Whiffenpoofs in Beijing.” Made me wonder — how did he know it was the Whiffs? Which, in reflecting on four years at Yale, led me to a deeper question. What is it that makes us different as Yalies — more likely to stand out in a crowd? Can you really spot a Yalie anywhere?

I couldn’t blame you if you said it’s as simple as asking someone their residential college or favorite sandwich at Alpha Delta. Did they take a class called “The Good Life” and get credit for it? Or is it something else entirely that binds Yalies together? And what could that “something” have to do not just with everyone here today but the thousands of Yalies who’ve occupied this university before us?

There’s been a lot of change at Yale even in our four years. Two new colleges. Hopper. Freshmen are now first-years. Masters are heads of college. As of next fall, everyone can live in gender-neutral housing if they so choose. And audition for the Whiffenpoofs.

But, this comes as no surprise — Yale has always been a place that’s embraced sharp differences in opinion, where big ideas have clashed. We are, after all, the school of Bill Buckley and Bill Coffin, of John Ashcroft and John Kerry. People here may have been right or wrong, left or right, but they most certainly have always been engaged. And it is through this clash, this push of ideas against each other, at Yale, that change has been born.

At the height of the great depression, the SAT was established to provide merit-based scholarships so that more low-income students could attend schools like Yale. On campus, Yale’s student body then started to challenge the university to pay its workers more while alumni wrote letters opposing “pointless” new Law School courses in economics and policy.

Thirty years later, in 1969, Yale admitted its first class of women. That same year, this campus erupted as a battleground of the civil rights movement. For a year, Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins stood trial in New Haven. Thousands of protestors flooded the green during that trial, and Yale President Kingman Brewster insisted on opening campus; dining halls provided meals; and students provided housing to people who had come to speak their truth.

Fast-forward to four years ago — and Yale admitted its most diverse class of students ever. By the end of our first year, the Times was acting like we were Yale’s first rodeo. I don’t think so. There has always been disagreement and debate here; what binds us as Yalies isn’t the specific controversies. It’s the training in analytical thinking. The instruction to value empathy and emotional intelligence and difference in opinion. It’s learning from watching our friends in scholarship and the world of music, art, theater that not everything that counts can be counted, while not all that can be counted counts. And more than that there is an ethos here — a spirit of acknowledgment — among all those who may disagree. Cliché as it may be, Yalies strive to engage in the world and to make a difference. It’s simply in the air here.

For me, that’s Yale. It’s this weird, rowdy bunch of kids from all over the world, in one place, committed to lux et veritas and to each other, who believe that they can do anything. In 1939, Yalies rich and poor redefined the role of government. In 1969, Yalies male and female of all colors held this country’s legal system accountable. In 2019, now, we are inseparable isolationists, undocumented model-citizens, stoic revolutionaries, tomboyish guys, spiritual atheists, presidential pre-meds, and it’s anyone’s guess what our legacy will be. What we do know is this: Yale is not naïve in crafting a class. When this place has opened its doors to more of us, to new types and new breeds, history has been made. And this time around, they chose us.

They chose US to engineer a solution to climate change. To keep destructive weapons out of the wrong hands. They chose US to keep people from dying in a broken healthcare system. To responsibly manage artificial intelligence and automation. They chose US to build an inclusive world in which kids don’t have to come to a place like Yale to have a fair chance and an equal shot.

So I repeated my question to Mo: How could you recognize the Whiffenpoofs in Beijing? His answer? The bow ties. Some of us are pretty easy to spot from the outside; it’s what’s inside that we’re celebrating today.

Dean Chun, President Salovey, esteemed faculty and staff, friends, loved ones, thank you for everything. You challenged us and allowed us to do the same. Throughout, you were firm in your values. You told us we’d make it here — through the tears, anxieties, science, and writing credits. Today is proof that together we could make it.

And to my fellow graduates of 2019: We were accompanied here by a wave of change. Then we elected an alder, founded Every Vote Counts, and researched the world over because like Yalies from many generations, we don’t simply study history. You spot a Yalie at the edge of history. Pushing the boundaries, making a difference, and leaving a legacy. Wherever you stand, today it is my privilege to share this legacy with you.

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