Returning to form, Class Day boasts sun, smiles — and calls to action
For the first time in three years, Yale’s graduating seniors were able to convene on Old Campus for an in-person celebration of Class Day, one of the most cherished traditions in the university’s academic calendar.
The event, which was also broadcast live online, featured speeches and reflections from members of the Class of ’22, the conferral of prizes to 11 outstanding Yale seniors, and the traditional wearing of unique — typically home-made, and often silly — headwear.
The traditional Class Day speech was delivered by Reshma Saujani, a 2002 Yale Law School graduate who has dedicated the past decade of her career to building movements that support women’s and girls’ economic and academic empowerment.
Saujani, who is the founder of Girls Who Code, which equips girls and young women with computing skills to be competitive in the technology sector, is a leading activist and author of the bestseller “PAY UP: The Future of Women and Work (And Why It’s Different Than You Think).”
“I love advocacy, I love fighting for people, especially women and girls,” she told the graduates. “And I love that change is possible here. That pushing and agitating for things to be different is a big part of what it means to live in America. To ‘form the more perfect union,’ right?”
Speaking to the graduates, she invoked President John F. Kennedy’s quote, “Ask not what your country can do you for you, ask what you can do for your country.” When he said those words in 1961, a time when, according to a Pew poll, 75% of the U.S. population trusted the federal government to do the right thing, it resonated, she said. Today, when only about 22% say the same, the words mean something different.
Back then, she said, America was largely “getting the job done.”; it was helping to create institutions like the UN and International Monetary Fund, sprinting to win the space race, creating new vaccines, and introducing social welfare benefits. Today, in contrast, we live today in a country where income inequality is growing, millions are suffering from mental illness and drowning under medical debt, and where the federal government for so long refused to adequately address the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“Ask what we can do for our country?” she said. “Are you kidding me? Class of 2022, JFK’s words were not for you… instead, he would want you to ask your country what your country can do for you.”
She urged them to demand more. But first, she urged them to look out for themselves.
“I know this is a generation, and a class, of leaders, eager to use the gift and the privilege of your education to go out in the world with open-mindedness, courage, and contemplation,” she said. “But before you can ask your country what your country can do for you, you have to ask yourself what you can do for yourself.”
She advised them to not fall into the “hustle culture trap,” and to not pursue their goals at the expense of their physical or mental health. Particularly after the challenges of the past two years, she said, students should take the time for some self-healing — healing of the body, the mind, the soul, and the spirit.
“You have to go inward first before charging forward,” she said. “Graduates, go inward. Heal yourself. Only then can you heal the nation. Because, yes, yes, yes, your country needs you. Just not in the way that JFK imagined. Your country needs you to take care of each other, and reimagine a world that better takes care of us.”
Slideshow: Scenes from Class Day 2022
In the traditional class reflection, graduating senior Arya Singh ’22 of Pauli Murray College shared a story of the alienation she felt at a pre-college program she’d been part of, before coming to Yale, due to a physical disability, caused by a genetic disorder, that requires her to use a motorized wheelchair. She worried that she’d have the same experience at Yale.
Instead, she found she was surrounded by supportive, selfless people, and a culture of inclusiveness.
“Yale powerfully — and unexpectedly — restored the hope that I had lost by consistently countering that narrative through this community’s unconditional integrity and culture of acceptance,” she said. “ Yale is a place where people can meaningfully dream towards a future that they create. For every person here, that dream means something uniquely beautiful.
Earlier in the day, Yale President Peter Salovey addressed the Class of 2022 during the annual Baccalaureate ceremony, another university tradition held in person for the first time since 2019.
Salovey told the graduates that, now more than ever, the world needs their scholarship, their skepticism, and their intellectual prowess. It also needs their “intellectual humility.”
“As graduates, it behooves you to carry forth the inquisitive attitude you have forged here at Yale into the world; to carry forth your insistence on pushing opinions—including your own—beyond the confines of comfort; your resolve to strengthen your reasoning through personal investigation and civil discourse,” he said.
“Wisdom is rooted in this willingness — this responsibility — to entertain ideas brought to you by others. To listen carefully. To think critically. To challenge your views — and then to change them when the discovery of truth demands it.”