As an Asian-American student at Yale, Lee Ngo ’05 can relate to Washington Governor Gary Locke ’72, who attended the university when minorities were a relatively new phenomenon on campus.
“I perceive Gary Locke as a pioneer for Asian Americans,” Ngo said, “and I hope more people will follow in his example of overcoming the color line.”
The first Asian-American governor in the history of the continental United States, Locke spoke before a crowd of about 80 students and faculty members in the Law School Thursday afternoon on the topic “Restoring the Soul of America in the 21st Century.” The lecture was sponsored by the Chubb Fellowship of Timothy Dwight College, which is dedicated to assisting Yale students interested in public service.
Locke, a Democrat first elected as governor in 1996 and re-elected in 2000, had not been back on campus since his graduation nearly 30 years ago.
Following an introduction by Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, Locke began by describing the students on campus as energetic, inquisitive, and idealistic.
Recalling memories from his initially turbulent college experience, Locke said that many of his classmates freshman year lived very different lifestyles from his own working class background, especially when it came to laundry. While many students opted to use the laundry service, Locke would trek to a New Haven Laundromat to use coin-operated laundry.
Locke then discussed the American reaction to Sept. 11 by highlighting the confidence and pride of the citizenry.
“We all know Americans galvanize in time of confrontation,” Locke said. “Americans have consistently stared down challenges while reassessing what it means to be an American.”
In portraying the spirit of America, Locke said that Americans are not united by blood, birth, or soil, but by a common set of ideals: freedom, hope, and opportunity. Locke said that what has most inspired him in the wake of Sept. 11 has been “watching the pieces of the American mosaic coming together,” as members of various religions and ethnicities have collaborated in a unified relief effort.
The grandson of a Chinese immigrant who worked as a houseboy in exchange for English lessons, Governor Locke said that multiculturalism breathes new life into America. In addition, Locke urged for a greater spirit of equality and access for underrepresented groups.
“Affirmative action is not selecting unqualified people, but giving qualified people a chance,” Locke said. “It is going beyond selecting who you know.”
Locke also emphasized the importance of the community in America today, saying that family, church, and neighbors can sustain people in changing times.
“We make America stronger by making our own communities stronger,” Locke said.
Locke concluded by offering words of encouragement to today’s generation of Yale students, encouraging them to work hard and strive for excellence.
Following the lecture audience members were allowed to ask the governor questions. When asked who were his favorite professors at Yale, Locke mentioned H. Bradford Westerfield, Professor Emeritus of International Studies and Political Science. Westerfield, who was in the audience, raised his hand in recognition.
Washington resident Tony Cotto ’03 enjoyed seeing his governor speak at Yale.
“He’s an outstanding role model,” Cotto said. “He’s very visible to the people of Washington.”