Yale College 2022: Meet some of the graduates
We present here a series of profiles of members of the Yale College Class of 2022. Selected from nominations submitted by residential college heads and deans, these outstanding students are variously (and sometimes in combination) athletes and economists, artists and activists, singers, scientists, and soldiers. One excelled as a Yale College student after a career in the U.S. Army. Another overcame her own fears, determining that she would not allow a disability to define her but to redefine what it meant to those around her. One student, a native of New Haven, earned a seat on the City’s Board of Alders. Others took their time at Yale to explore their own heritages, and in doing so discovered something about themselves. We hope this small but impressive sample offers a sense of the breadth of experience, achievement, and humanity within the undergraduate Class of 2022.
As a pre-med student, Jummie Akinwunmi knew she had a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time.
There were the required science courses she had to take, but also the research and clinical experiences that would help to solidify her choice of becoming a doctor in the future. Yet from the outset, Akinwunmi was equally determined to spend her undergraduate years learning about herself. She wanted to learn about Nigeria and her own cultural heritage.
And so, along with her five-year coursework toward a B.A. in the history of science, medicine, and public health, and a Master of Public Health (M.P.H) in health policy, Akinwunmi took courses in African history, African-American history, global health, and more.
Once it was impossible for Nareen Barwari to imagine studying at Yale. Now, the graduating senior encourages others to see past the seemingly impossible in their own quest for higher education.
The daughter of Kurdistan refugees, Barwari was born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the middle child of five siblings, two of whom were already in college. Well aware of the strain on the family finances, Barwari was contemplating her options when she met a Yale student ambassador, one of many who travel across the country talking to high school seniors. The student ambassador told Barwari that under the university’s financial aid program, she would be eligible to attend Yale at no cost to her family, and encouraged her to apply.
“I got in — which was really shocking,” said Barwari. “It was life-changing and such a huge thing for my family.”
Cooking has always brought Nellie Conover-Crockett joy. She has made her own birthday cake since the age of five and in high school she frequently tackled family dinner. Once at Yale, she often reserved the student kitchen to cook with and for friends, made dinner for her fellow Trumbull College peers over spring break, and constructed some truly epic gingerbread houses.
“It’s just a joyful way for me to express myself,” she said.
Conover-Crockett, who will graduate from Yale College this week, is also an avid volunteer. A horseback rider and member of her high school’s swim team, she transferred those skills to therapeutic riding lessons back home and teaching kids with disabilities how to swim here in New Haven.
Great athletes like Ellis DeJardin have a gift for anticipating events. And in some ways, DeJardin’s four years at Yale played out how she envisioned them after graduating from an all-girls high school in Pasadena, California.
A prep star in volleyball, she ended up as captain of Yale’s volleyball team and helped the Bulldogs win two league championships. She also sensed that her collegiate academic interests might include psychology. “I loved doing science experiments and I thought people were more interesting than bacteria,” said DeJardin, a resident of Jonathan Edwards College who will graduate this month. “So, psychology was a Hail Mary.”
When Yale College senior Jay Fife graduates this month, some 30 family members and friends will be on campus for the celebration, most from the Muscogee Reservation in Oklahoma where he grew up. He is the first in his family to graduate from an Ivy League institution, and, also becomes the first Ivy-educated graduate of Preston High School in Beggs, Oklahoma.
But for Fife, the event carries even greater symbolism: His graduation, he said, is a celebration of survival, reclamation, and community empowerment. Supported by Mellon Mays and Edward A. Bouchet Undergraduate Fellowships, he became the first person ever to write a history of the Mvskoke language — which today is spoken fluently by only about 200 tribal members — for his senior thesis.
Even as a youngster, José Garcia could see that education creates community.
Garcia, a 22-year-old graduating senior from Pierson College, fondly recalls the nurturing, supportive afterschool program he attended in his district library in Kissimmee, Fla. — where he built lasting friendships and played an active role in his own learning.
“It’s fruitful and engaging, being surrounded by other folks going through similar experiences and supporting each other,” says Garcia, an ethnicity, race, and migration major and Education Studies Scholar. “I’ve always been conscious of that, because of my upbringing.”
Yale was not on Jaelen King’s radar as a high school student. He only considered applying after earning an excellent score on the SAT exams — and some firm nudging from his mom.
And his first few months on campus, he admits, were a challenge. But he ultimately found his footing.
“The biggest thing I’m taking from Yale is understanding who I am as a person,” said King, a senior in Benjamin Franklin College who will graduate this week.
Looking back on the last four years, he sees how much he’s grown, and he gives credit to the people and groups who supported him along the way.
Warning: once you start listening to “Late to the Party,” a single released last fall by Emily Li ’22, who performs as Emei, you may not be able to stop. With its ebullient beat, Li’s powerful voice, and an earworm of a chorus, it’s the kind of song you can imagine a roomful of college students singing along to at the top of their voices. And, in fact, Li’s TikTok of just that scene, filmed at Yale last October, has garnered more than 2 million views.
She could have headed straight into a career in music, but when she came back from her time in China — she’d taken a year off from high school to do so — she threw herself back into academics. After the chaos of a showbiz lifestyle, she says, “I loved the fact that I knew that in 22 days I had a test.”
Andrew Nguyen wasn’t a typical first-year Yale College student when he arrived on campus in 2018. While most of his classmates were fresh from their high school graduations, Nguyen had recently completed more than four years of service in the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, including two tours in Afghanistan.
Nguyen, a member of the university’s Eli Whitney Students Program for non-traditional students, initially struggled to adjust — transitioning from an elite light-infantry unit to a college classroom was challenging — but he eventually found his footing, embraced the campus community, and flourished.
Growing up as a scholar-athlete in Texas, Seun Omonije already knew plenty of football moves before he arrived in New Haven nearly four years ago.
But Yale taught the 22-year-old graduating senior from Silliman College a new move — the quantum pivot.
In 2020, after the Ivy League canceled the football season due to public health concerns over COVID-19, Omonije, a wide receiver, was able to shift more of his attention to his computer science major. That decision, he says, led him to new friendships, new research opportunities, and a clear path to a career in quantum computing.
As a prospective college student aspiring to learn about government and public policy — and especially as one who grew up in New Haven — Eli Sabin knew there was a lot to learn right here in his backyard.
Sure enough, during four years at Yale he’s had a chance to learn from some of the world’s leading experts on political theory, but also from practitioners who’ve offered insights into how governing happens at the ground level. For more than two years, Eli Sabin has had a front row seat to the machinations of city government, serving on New Haven’s Board of Alders.
Julia Sanderson arrived at Yale in 2017 from South Dakota as a well-travelled daughter of an Air Force officer, sister to a brother who urged her to study Russian, and an eager student with vague interest in psychology.
Since then, it seems her academic interests have followed a course taken right out of the international news headlines.
Sanderson, who will graduate this week with a degree in psychology, will become an intelligence officer in the Air Force with a focus on Chinese and Russian disinformation campaigns. She has spent time studying in war-torn Kviv, Ukraine — through her Yale studies and Project Global Officer — where at the urging of her brother she learned the Russian language during two separate visits.
Arya Singh ’22 has had an exceptional Yale career by any measure — winner of the Francis Gordon Brown prize for academic excellence, leadership, and service to the university; concurrently attending the School of Public Health for a master’s degree as she finished up her senior year; leadership positions both on campus and off. But she says that what stands out to her is how typical her time at Yale has been: hanging out with friends, cheering at the Harvard-Yale game, attending HalloWoads (the annual Halloween dance party at Toad’s Place).
Though she’d had a connection to Yale through her father, Dinakar Singh ’90, and had fallen in love with the campus on a visit during high school, attending herself wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Singh, who has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder, uses a motorized wheelchair, and the topography of Yale’s campus and the age of some of its buildings presented accessibility challenges. But her sense that the university would make it work for her was borne out in her first days as a resident at Pauli Murray College.
Alden Tan took CS50 (“Introduction to Computing and Programming”), a popular computer science course, during his first year at Yale College. By the time he was a sophomore he served as an undergraduate teaching assistant in the same course, helping his peers tackle tricky problem sets. That’s when he came to love the field.
“Computer science classes are unique in the sense that you have one big problem to solve over two or three weeks,” Tan said. “You make incremental progress and then hit roadblocks and bugs that can take many hours to overcome. When you finally solve the problem, the sense of satisfaction is unrivaled. That’s also why I really enjoy being a teaching assistant. I love helping other students achieve that feeling of fulfillment.”