Brenzel tells students to value self-validation

Former Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffery Brenzel, the man who admitted all current undergraduates, urged individuals to be wary of the mindset that high-achieving students bring to institutions such as Yale.

Brenzel, who spoke as part of the “What Matters to Me and Why” speaker series on Thursday evening, said people need to free themselves from external validations and place a greater value on self-validation. Only by acknowledging the distinction between external and internal validation can someone live fully, he said.

“What we have become is a system that teaches students to do the trick that gets the biscuit,” said Brenzel, who serves as master of Timothy Dwight College.

Brenzel discussed the ways in which the University has evolved from a institution of exclusion to one of inclusion. Even though the student body currently embodies diverse characteristics, the mindsets of students in the University’s applicant pool — and that at other high-achieving institutions — is more homogeneous than ever, he said.

Education has become a way to arm a student with a resume, Brenzel said, adding that he advises people to take chances by stepping out of a fixed path and making themselves vulnerable to failures.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us,” he said.

Acknowledging that “your education is not your credential” is the first step to freeing oneself from such external pressures, Brenzel said.

Brenzel said he recognized that those who are personally successful are people who understand that their credentials do not define them.

A person can distinguish between internal and external validations through years of experience, Brenzel said, but separating the two starts with acknowledging their differences.

The “What Matters to Me and Why” speaker series originated at Stanford University in 1994 and is based on the need to encourage reflection within a community. Gregor Hintler FES ’14, who coordinates the series at Yale, said the goal of the program is to help community members understand what drives officials who help shape the University. By emphasizing advice from speakers, the program — which debuted on campus last spring — hopes to help students reflect on their own values and connect them with values of accomplished individuals.

Brenzel stepped down as dean of undergraduate admissions in fall 2012.

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