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Yale has a rich history of graduates who have excelled in every sphere of society. When the new residential colleges open in 2017, two worthy alumni will be honored — of that I am certain. We are at a unique moment as a University, one where the admissions office is striving to diversify Yale’s student body and make our world-class resources accessible to deserving students from across the spectrum. Yet when students from minority backgrounds arrive on campus, it is not always easy to feel as if they belong at Yale. There are few historical minority figures who are celebrated in higher education. But Yale has a chance to make Edward Bouchet one such figure.
Born in 1852 in New Haven — something worthy of celebrating in and of itself — Bouchet was a trailblazer for African-Americans in academia. Whether he was Yale College’s first African-American graduate is disputed, but his influence is not. The first African-American to be nominated for Phi Beta Kappa, Bouchet was also the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in physics and the sixth American, period. For 26 years, Bouchet taught at Cheyney University (the school was then called Institute for Colored Youth), the oldest African-American school for higher education. He served as a role model for African-American students, frequently teaching at black high schools across the country.
Edward Bouchet was a phenomenal ambassador for the Elm City and Yale in general. A first-generation student of color and a first-class scientist, Bouchet is a role model for the Yale community. Though he came from Yale’s past, in many ways he represents the University’s future.
Mitchell Jones is a junior in Berkeley College and vice-president of the Yale Black Men’s Union. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .