It was supposed to happen two years ago. Covid happened instead. So, it actually took place this year, the first weekend of June 2022. We’re talking here about my 60th Yale Reunion. The last one I had attended, with my late wife, Simone, was the 25th. Lots had changed at Yale in the intervening 42 years. For one thing, this reunion, which I went to with my second wife, Cedar, was farther away. We traveled this time from Boulder, Colorado, rather than St. Paul, Minnesota. But that of course has nothing to do with changes at dear, old Yale...
Let’s start with the physical changes. Yale, modeled on Oxford and Cambridge with their named colleges, had just added two new ones to the prior 12: Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray Colleges. We couldn’t get into the latter, named for the gender-discrimination activist, lawyer, American Studies professor, and, in 1977, the first African American woman ordained an Episcopal priest. She died in 1985. (She was born, incidentally, in 1910 on the same day as Joe Biden, November 20th.) You can see me below with Ben Franklin, on a courtyard bench in his College, opened because a class was holding its reunion there. Another change was in the make-up of the faculty and students. I had encountered my first female professor in grad school, the redoubtable Marie Borroff. Now women faculty were as numerous as men. As for the student body, it had first become co-ed 50 years ago. Today both students and faculty represented the world, diverse in every conceivable way. The Yale of my day was the preserve of northwest European young men and professors of means. The university presidents who signed my degrees were named A. Whitney Griswold and Kingman Brewster. Now Yale was on its second Jewish president, Dr. Peter Salovey. In 1956 when I’d matriculated as a freshman, the unspoken quota for Jewish students had recently been lifted, and we Jewish boys were suddenly a significant minority on campus. Why, there were even two other Feldmans who graduated with me in 1960. During the four days of this year’s reunion, Cedar and I found ourselves hanging out with three students staffing the Welcome Desk: two from Ghana, a young man and a young woman. The third was a Pakistani American woman in hijab from Oklahoma. All three were bright and articulate. The point is, they were no longer the exception but the rule. Diversity reigned.
Two final differences. As mentioned above, the Yale of my day catered to families able to afford the steep tuition and fees which had always prevailed. Now, as President Salovey reported in his State of the University address to the alumni classes in attendance, fully 85% of Yale’s undergraduates completed their bachelor’s degree with no debt, while the other 15% had an average debt of only $14,000, a figure well below the national average. Salovey’s point: If you could get into Yale, you could afford to leave it four years later. The other difference has to do with Yale’s priority on research applied to the major problems confronting today’s world. The focus, the president continued, is the betterment of our planet and all its inhabitants. So, when Cedar and I left after four days of lectures, great food, and good fellowship, we were truly impressed, having received a gift of hope in these dark days of pandemic and war.