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Reshma Saujani LAW ’02, Girls Who Code founder and lauded advocate of women’s economic and academic empowerment, will be this year’s Class Day speaker, the University announced on Monday. 

Saujani, who has spent most of her career as a women’s rights advocate, will speak at the annual event on May 22 at 2 p.m. on Old Campus to celebrate the Yale College class of 2022. Commencement will take place on May 23 for the class of 2022 and on May 14 for the class of 2020. In the announcement, Saujani said she is looking forward to her return to Yale and is excited about the future the class of 2022 graduates are going to be a part of building. 

“I am thrilled to return to campus and be inspired by the graduating class’ resilience, bravery, and determination,” Saujani said. “We are at a pivotal moment in history. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to radically reimagine business, culture and advocacy, to redesign our systems and structures for a post-pandemic world. I already see Yale graduates stepping up and demanding better futures for themselves, our country, and our world. It is an honor to celebrate this milestone with them.”

A first-generation American, Saujani grew up in Illinois. She attended the University of Illinois and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government before arriving in New Haven to attend Yale Law School. After graduation, Saujani worked as an attorney and political organizer, later running for the United States Congress in 2010 and serving as New York City’s deputy public advocate. 

In 2012, Saujani founded the organization Girls Who Code after noticing gender imbalances in computer science classes while visiting schools during her campaign for the House of Representatives. The organization aims to support young women in technology and has thus far taught over 500,000 girls about computer programming virtually and in-person. Girls Who Code is working to achieve its goal of closing the gender gap in new entry-level tech jobs by 2030. In 2019, Girls Who Code was named by Forbes as the most innovative nonprofit company. 

Now, Saujani has served on the Board of Overseers at Harvard University since 2019 and has been recognized as one of Fortune’s “Greatest Leaders” in its “40 under 40” list. In addition, WSJ Magazine named her the “Innovator of the Year,” and Forbes named her one of the “Most Powerful Women Changing the World.” 

According to a Monday morning tweet from Saujani, University President Peter Salovey asked her to speak at the event late last winter. Saujani noted that she has been working on her speech for six months. 

Saujani described the personal significance of being invited to speak, as a mother who grew up “a working class brown kid from the Midwest” where nobody she knew had attended Yale.

“My path to Yale was not traditional, to say the least,” Saujani tweeted. “I went to Yale Law School as a TRANSFER STUDENT. I applied 3 times before I got in. Ever since I was a kid, all I wanted was a Yale degree … So for me, this is huge. And it’s huge because of the obligation I feel to those graduates when I step on the stage.”

Stefanie Grau ’22, member of the Class Day committee, wrote in an email to the News that the committee does not have bearing over who is chosen, but she is excited about the choice. 

“I think Reshma is a very inspiring attorney, activist, and author whose determination to advocate for women’s empowerment is both remarkable and admirable,” Grau wrote in an email to the News. “I think she will bring and embody a spirit of selflessness, altruism, and hopefulness to Class Day that will be especially refreshing for a class that has experienced a few years of the pandemic at Yale.” 

The Class Day committee, composed of Christine Ho ’22, Yousra Omer ’22, Jay Fife ’22, Victoria Winter ’22 and Grau, also shared their collective excitement in the announcement. The committee is led by Alison Coleman, director of special projects and lecturer in English. 

“Since graduating from Yale Law School, Saujani has used her career as an attorney, author, and leading activist to advocate for women’s economic empowerment, working to advance social missions that we Yalies care deeply about,” the committee wrote in an email. “We are excited to hear her deliver an inspiring and impassioned speech that our class will be sure to remember for years to come.”

Saujani is also an author of the bestselling book “PAY UP: The Future of Women And Work (And Why It’s Different Than You Think,” which was published in March. She gave a Ted Talk entitled “Teach girls bravery, not perfection” in 2016 that has gained over five million views. She also founded the Marshall Plan for Moms in January 2021, which she was named Leader of the Year in the inaugural Anthem Awards for. The Marshall Plan for Moms aims to help advocate for policy to support the work of women in and out of the home. 

On Twitter, congratulations for Saujani flowed in, ranging from fellow authors to individuals previously in attendance at one of Saujani’s speeches to New York congresswoman Grace Meng. 

“They’re lucky to have you,” Meng wrote on Twitter in a reply to Saujani’s own tweets. 

Past Class Day speakers have included writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie GRD ’08 and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73. 

Sarah Cook is one of the University editors. She previously covered student policy and affairs, along with President Salovey's cabinet. From Nashville, Tennessee, she is a junior in Grace Hopper majoring in Neuroscience.
Anika Arora Seth is the 146th Editor in Chief and President of the Yale Daily News. Anika previously covered STEM at Yale as well as admissions, alumni and financial aid. She also laid out the weekly print edition of the News as a Production & Design editor and was one of the inaugural Diversity, Equity & Inclusion co-chairs. Anika is pursuing a double major in biomedical engineering and women's, gender and sexuality studies.