Editors’ Note: This piece originally appeared in the 2019 First Year Issue, published on August 2, 2019.
Dear Class of 2023,
Welcome to Yale! You will hear this phrase often in the coming days and weeks from new friends, faculty members and staff members who are excited to welcome you to this tremendous community. I look forward to meeting you as well; if you see me around campus, please introduce yourself.
Now that you are a part of the Yale community, I want you to consider a question: Why are you here? At first the question may seem unnecessary. Isn’t it obvious why we are all here? Not exactly! To take advantage of all Yale has to offer, you will have to think deliberately about why you are here and why we, as a community, have come together in this place.
Perhaps we should ask why Yale is here. What is Yale’s purpose in the world? A few years ago, I had the privilege of crafting Yale’s mission statement. In a few short sentences, it articulates our university’s purpose — why we exist and what we hope to achieve. Our mission statement says:
“Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society. We carry out this mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.”
Yale’s mission is a call to action: The world needs your ideas, your creativity and your understanding. It needs knowledge and truth. As I told last year’s graduates, “We believe…in the boundless potential of human ingenuity; that together, we can solve great challenges and bring light and truth to a world in great need of it.” This belief connects us — and generations of Yale graduates — in a common search for lux et veritas.
Each of you will offer your own unique gifts to this search and to the Yale community. As you do so, I hope you will engage deeply in the life of the mind. After all, that is why we are here! Go to office hours, talk to your professors and classmates outside of class and study hard. Take a variety of classes and seek out new experiences, letting your curiosity guide you. Be willing to revise your assumptions and challenge old orthodoxies. Your time at Yale is a remarkable opportunity to learn from and alongside some of the greatest minds in the world.
Now that you are part of this “ethical, interdependent, and diverse community,” I hope you will take advantage of Yale’s tremendous diversity. We do this first and foremost by learning from people who are different from us. Never again will you be surrounded by such diversity of thought and experience. Your classmates hail from 123 countries. Nearly one in six of you is the first in your family to attend college, and nearly one in five receives federal Pell Grants for low-income students. Some of you are the children or grandchildren of Yale alumni. Many of you spoke a language other than English at home. You identify with different religious, cultural, ethnic or racial groups. Now, you are all part of the Yale community. Get to know your peers and not just the ones who think, act or look like you.
Finally, as you embark on this incredible search, be ready to fail. Success is probably much more familiar to many of you than failure, but the experience of failure is, paradoxically, essential to your success at Yale! Take risks, embark on a new and unfamiliar project or activity and embrace failure as part of learning. Do not be afraid to call your parents and tell them you failed at something! Not because you did not work hard enough, but because you took on a challenge that pushed you to the outer limits of your abilities.
Yale — and New Haven — have been my home for nearly four decades. I know you, too, will find a wonderful home here. Enjoy the magnificent search for light and truth that has brought all of us to this place. Welcome to Yale!
Peter Salovey is the current president of Yale University and the Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .