During Saturday’s opening assembly, University President Peter Salovey urged first years to nurture their curiosity by pushing themselves beyond the familiar — a message he has repeatedly articulated to new members of the Yale community at the annual address.
On the stage of Woolsey Hall in his seventh Yale College opening assembly, Salovey said Yale provides “an unparalleled opportunity to engage with a wide range of people, ideas and experiences.” To underscore the importance of probing questions, he told stories about Nobel Prize-winning physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi, the movie Pink Panther and his own research on emotional intelligence.
“What if you nurtured your own curiosity by pushing yourself beyond the familiar and the comfortable?” Salovey said on Saturday. “It might mean attending a talk on a topic you don’t know much about or by someone who doesn’t share your beliefs. Or conducting research in a Yale laboratory or collaborating on an exhibit at one of our amazing museums. Or perhaps your curiosity will be sparked having coffee with a classmate who comes from a different part of the world or a different place on the political spectrum.”
During his speech, Salovey also highlighted “a dazzling array of questions” previous Yale classes had asked to move the University forward. For example, when the first class of women arrived at Yale College 50 years ago, they asked questions that members of a previously all-male institution had never posed before, Salovey said.
In the past, the president and Yale College dean have used the annual address to discuss some of the biggest topics at Yale and in higher education. In 2015, Salovey invited first years to participate in a campus-wide discussion about the controversial namesake of Calhoun College. The address was followed by an 18-month debate that led to the renaming of the college in honor of computer scientist Grace Murray Hopper GRD ’34. Heated conversations about race and inclusion that year threw Yale into the national spotlight, and many University administrators have since criticized Salovey’s annual address for starting a debate on a controversial issue he could not yet answer. Facing criticism from those who believe Yale has stifled free speech with political correctness, Salovey has since emphasized the importance of free and open inquiry during opening addresses.
Last year, Salovey used the speech to stress his commitment to immigration policies that allow Yale to recruit scholars from across the world. He returned to the topic of free speech this year and emphasized the importance of humility — or what he described as “our willingness to admit what we have yet to discover.”
While all first years interviewed by the News said they appreciated Salovey’s speech, some argued that conversations with those who have opposing viewpoints can sometimes be counterproductive.
“I enjoyed the speech, but I think there is a point at which discussion with the opponent is unproductive because they are not listening to your arguments and simply think they know what’s correct,” Esther Park ’23 said.
Cassidy Arrington ’23 also said while she believes Yale students should engage with those who hold contrary viewpoints to their own, those conversations often end up being counterproductive when both sides argue without listening.
Still, Luke Elizondo ’23 said students must be curious about other people’s opinions — even when they are contrary — to take away the most from their Yale experience.
“The speech was great. One of the reasons why I came to Yale is because I wanted to learn how to ask good questions and answer them,” Elizondo said.
There are 1,554 students in the class of 2023.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org