I would like to thank the nearly 900 members of the class of 2017 who donated to this year’s Senior Class Gift (“Senior Class Gift” Feb. 27, 2017). Media coverage of the gift will predictably focus on the seniors who did not contribute. The real story, however, concerns the students and alumni who generously support Yale year after year.
Those of us who have studied and worked at Yale understand the role philanthropy plays in making this place what it is. Yale’s strengths — generous financial aid, eminent faculty, dedicated staff and world-class research — are all made possible by donors.
Many gifts are modest in size but significant in meaning. I am proud to have donated to Yale every year since I received my Ph.D. here in 1986. Giving back to Yale — to the people and place that helped me find my passion for psychology, nurtured me as a graduate student and guided me as both a faculty member and also as president — is one of the great privileges of my life.
Alumni are rightly proud of Yale’s rich history of public service and philanthropy. When I meet alumni from all generations, they often mention the importance of the “rights and responsibilities” — in contrast to the “rights and privileges” of our peer schools — conferred on graduates at commencement. Yalies fulfill their responsibilities in extraordinarily diverse ways, yet a belief in the value of service and giving back connects all of us.
One member of our community who gives to Yale and serves society is Stephen Schwarzman ’69. Some students have expressed criticism of him — and, by association, of Yale — for his decision to chair a bipartisan committee of CEOs, including four distinguished graduates of Yale, who serve as advisors to President Trump (“Administrators Defend Schwarzman’s Trump Ties,” March 2, 2017). To critics, I would remind them that Yale is a truly pluralistic institution — perhaps one of the last in a world of increasingly narrow partisanship and fracturing self-interest. Our alumni include George H.W. Bush ’48 and George W. Bush ’68, John Kerry ’66, John Ashcroft ’64, Bill Clinton LAW ’73 and Hillary Clinton LAW ’73. These notable public servants teach us through their example that we can disagree about ideas while working together for the common good.
We can recognize and celebrate Mr. Schwarzman’s contributions even if individuals disagree with his decision to chair the President’s advisory committee. As a philanthropist and public servant, Mr. Schwarzman stands in a long line of Yale alumni — including Paul Mellon ’29 and John W. Sterling, class of 1864 — who have transformed this campus and institution through their generosity.
Service and philanthropy are cornerstones of the Yale experience — essential to continuing the tradition of “rights and responsibilities” that has been so meaningful to generations of Yalies. I am confident that members of the Class of 2017 will join in this legacy; so many of them already have.
Peter Salovey is the University President and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology.