Reports on YAA Assembly and Alumni Fund Convocation

YAA Assembly and Alumni Fund Convocation
November 16-17, 2023

The 2023 YAA Assembly and Alumni Fund Convocation was a splendid and enthusiastic event, bringing together Representatives of Yale College Classes and the Yale Alumni Fund with Representatives from the Yale professional schools, current undergraduate classes, and the Secretaries of Yale College Classes. The registration desk and headquarters were stationed in the Omni Hotel, with an efficient and energetic staff, and where several breakout-sessions were held. With its many more attendees and available sessions, this was no “bare-bones”, post-Covid Assembly.

Each attendee selected events and tours from a menu: mine began with a tour of the Schwarzman Center, with its refurbished Dome and beneath it the President’s Room. Outside the northern wall of Commons, another wall has been constructed providing space for several small rooms, including one for naps. Beneath Commons is The Underground, a popular cafeteria with nooks for study, which together with Commons, serve an enormous number of daily meals.

A delicious Yale Alumni Fund lunch was held in the large, elegant dining room of the Divinity School. Joan O’Neill, the Vice-President for Alumni Affairs and Development spoke about the importance of the current For Humanity Campaign, the goal of which is $1.2 billion, with $800 million ( 67%) already received, 10% of which via gifts to the Alumni Fund. Next, there were two interesting Faculty Panel Discussions. At the first, Cultural Developments in Teaching and Learning, the panelists discussed the social, political, and economic factors that affect student, family, and teacher experiences in schools today. At the next panel, Design Agency and Urbanization Models: A Discussion of Architecture & Climate Change, Professor Joyce Hsiang, a founding partner of Plan B Architecture & Urbanism, discussed how her research and design work applies architectural methods and cartographic analysis to explore new relationships between humans and the earth and examines the agency of design at the planetary scale.

In the evening, there was a lavish reception in The Underground before the gala Yale Medal Dinner and Ceremony in Commons when Yale Medals were presented to five recipients for their extraordinary devotion to Yale’s ideals and their demonstrated support through extensive, exemplary service to the University.

Timothy Collins ’82 MBA
Andrea DaRif ’72, ’74 MFA
Edward A. Hirs III ’79, ’79 MA, ’81 MBA
John W. Jackson ’67
David R. Sanchez ’84 MA, ’84 MPhiL

On Friday morning, there were three Plenary Sessions in Sprague Hall. President Peter Salovey ’86 PhD gave a university update, reporting that Yale had increased contributions in lieu of taxes to the City of New Haven, that 22% of the current first year undergraduate class were the first from their respective families to go to college, that the number of students on Pell Grants had increased, and that 85% of the last year’s graduating college class left debt free. He spoke of his pride for the completion of the Schwarzman Center and the Humanities Quadrangle and of the plans already under way to create modern facilities on lower Hillhouse Avenue for engineering and science. Regarding the Israeli-Hamas War, he reported there were demonstrations on the campus in which strong positions were voiced in support of both sides of the conflict, but there had been no violence. Though freedom of speech is essential for education and for civilization, he assured us that hateful, disrespectful tirades would not be tolerated. Finally, he looked forward to receiving the report from the committee, chaired by Professor David Blight, Sterling Professor of History, author of Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom, investigating Yale’s role with slavery; he acknowledged Connecticut Hall was built by slaves.

The panelists for second session by Yale University Deans in Conversation were Jeffrey Brock ’92, Engineering; James Bundy ’95 MFA, Drama; and Megan Ranney MD, Public Health with Renee Kopkowski, Vice President of Communications as moderator. While each had many interesting and important things to say, the most impressive to me was Brock’s commitment to restore the glory of the Sheffield Scientific School, the premier scientific school in America established, in the mid 19th century by Benjamin Silliman, America’s first important scientist and supported by the eminent scientist Josiah Willard Gibbs. Its reputation suffered in the 20th century.

The panelists for third session, Yale University Trustees in Conversation were Fred Krupp ’75 and Maurie McInnis ’90 MA, ’96 PhD, with Weili Cheng ’77, the former Director of YAA,  as moderator. Krupp described his study of climate changes and his efforts to deal with them since he graduated and announced the creation of a Vice Provost of Climate Changes. There was also discussion of the law suit brought before the Supreme Court against the admission policies of Harvard and the University of North Carolina for which Yale had filed an amicus brief on their behalf. The Count ruled against Harvard and UNC. Yale is now seeking legal advice on how to comply with the ruling and yet maintain a diversified student body. They also reported that a committee had been created to search for a successor to President Salovey, who is resigning in March, 2024, and would be happy to receive recommendations.

After luncheon in the Omni Hotel Ballroom, there were two Volunteer Development Sessions. The panelists of the first, Managing Alumni Groups on a Shoestring: Leveraging Technology and Social Media were Rachel Littman ’91 and Kevin Winston BA, who discussed proactive methods of utilizing free and low-cost technology and social media to grow and manage membership in alumni clubs or groups. Some brought their cell phones or laptops to try out these tools in real time. In the second session, Engaging Alumni Across Generational Divides, Y. J. Kim ’80, Lauren Harris ’14, Jennifer Ebisemiju Madar ’88, and Thomas Opladen ’66 offered informative and interactive suggestions for cross-generational alumni activities.

The final event was the presenting of Alumni Volunteer Awards to several individuals for their outstanding contributions to Yale and to their respective clubs.

When the Assembly-Convocation ended, its success was evident in the pervasive euphoria of nearly everyone who attended, demonstrated by their heightened appreciation of the outstanding education provided to them by their Alma Mater resolve to do what they could to preserve and enhance that opportunity for future generations. And there was something else: in a time when cynicism is rampant about the inefficiency and even corruption of political, religious, educational, medium, and employment entities, there was an organization, the Yale Department of Volunteer Engagement, that did something very difficult, very well. As an example, having difficulty dealing with on line processes, I was personally contacted by Mara Gross Balk, the Associate Director, who helped me to register and select an agenda. This organization must have spent innumerable hours in the planning and execution of a project of combining so many panels/groups for so many participants at so many locations while the University was alive and breathing and when tens of thousands of Harvard and Yale alumni were descending on the Elm City. Those of us experiencing the results of that effort were given an opportunity to hope that all had not been lost.

On Saturday morning, the Alumni Village was open at the Yale Bowl at 10 AM. The kickoff for The Game, took place at noon in beautiful weather before crowd of 50,000. The Bulldogs prevailed in a close fought game to win the Ivy Championship. It tipped off a thrilling assembly with an exciting game.

December 1, 2023
Submitted by William H. H. Rees
YAA Representative, Yale College Class of 1956


YAA Assembly and Alumni Fund Convocation
November 18, 2022

“The more things change, the more they remain the same”, the English translation of a French quotation that seems an appropriate introduction to YAA Assembly in 2022.

This was not a YAA Assembly of representatives of Yale College Classes, as it was in the past, but an alliance with the Yale Alumni Fund Convocation and included attendees from the Yale professional schools. Unlike other YAA Assemblies when representatives were charged a fee and had to fend for housing, all attendees were housed in the Omni Hotel free of charge, although there was a fee for spouses/partners.

On Thursday there were tours on a first-come-first-serve basis, an Opening Reception in the afternoon at the Omni Hotel and a dinner at the Elm City Club (formally the Graduate Club), sponsored by the Yale Alumni Fund. Former YAA Assemblies on Thursday and Friday usually had several panels of professors to discuss general topics such as the environment with half hour breakout sessions involving visits to various Yale sites on an individual basis with a formal dinner on Friday evening in Commons highlighted by the President’s speech. This year everyone gathered at Sprague Hall on Thursday morning to be welcomed by President Peter Salovey with a brilliant address before the presentation of the new graduate school and a panel discussion with University Trustees.

The Jackson School for Global Affairs was opened on July 1, 2022. Dean James A. Levinsohn described its mission to “…inspire and prepare Yale students for global leadership and service”. There are 80 post graduate students enrolled and 240 undergraduates. Courses are also available to students in Yale College and in Yale Graduate schools, an inner disciplinary opportunity that is common to all Yale students. He named several of the professors who were former members of the US Department of Stare. The session included a zoom meeting with Paul Simons from the COP17 in Egypt, where he was a member of the US team with John Kerry and many Jackson students. A Fellow of the Jackson School and a former US Ambassador to Chile, Simons described the negotiations taking place at this important international gathering to mitigate climate catastrophe. The internet address to learn more about this school is https://jackson.yale.edu

The next session was a panel discussion with three Yale Trustees, Joshua L. Streiner, ’87, Marta L. Tellado, ’02 PhD, and Joshua Bekenstein, ’80. Weilli Cheng, ’77, the Executive Director of YAA, asked the panel members several questions that alumni have asked her over time. The questions were intelligent and answered with respect and empathy. Each trustee describe his or her background and individual duties, especially as they dealt with accountability. The session was recorded and can be accessed by typing into Google: yale alumni association trustee panel 2022.

At 11:45 AM, the next event was a Veterans Day Ceremony, held in Woosley Hall because of inclement weather. Dozens of Yale cadets in ROTC uniforms stood facing the audience where Yale Glee Clubs have often stood. President Salovey and Kimberly M. Goff-Crews, Secretary and Vice President of the University gave welcoming remarks. After that the National Anthem, played by the Veterans Day Brass Ensemble and the Invocation given by Rod Lowe, Senior Associate Director of Major Gifts, Yale Divinity School, and Co-Chair of the Yale Veterans Network took place, Michael Sullivan, Yale Law School Class of ’24, delivered an impassioned speech concerning his five year experience in the US Marine Corps. Then Taps was played and Risa Sodi, Assistant Dean of Yale College Honoree gave the Veterans Day Tribute. Next, the Ensemble played the anthems of the various services and veterans in the audience stood when their particular anthem was played. It was a spellbinding moment. US Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Yale Law School graduate, arrived and spoke of the important bill that was just signed into law, after decades of trying, providing medical benefits to veterans with service related disabilities, such as PTSD, sleep apnea, and burn pit exposure. He also noted that the VA Hospital in West Haven was one of the finest in the nation. Lastly, the Benediction was given by Omer Bajwa, Director of Muslim Life, with Vice President Goff-Crews delivering the Closing Remarks.

This celebration also was a unique episode in Yale activities, as was the following event, in the afternoon in the Omni Hotel, the session outlining the range of volunteer Yale alumni opportunities:

#ForBrightCollegeYears
1st Generation Yale Summer Bulldogs
Cross Campus
Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors
Yale Alumni Service Corps
Yale Alumni Fund Board of Directors & Volunteering
Yale College Reunion Giving
Yale Day of Service

The presentation of Yale Medals to five recipients took place in Commons of the Yale Schwarzman Center at 5:00 PM:

Gina Rosselli Boswell, ’89 MBA
Allison E. Brody, ‘95
Rockwell “Rocky” Chin, ’71 MCP
Lauren E. Graham, ’13 MEM
Donald M. Roberts, ‘57

There was a reception with hors d’oeuvres and beverages following the ceremony.

And so the Assembly-Convocation ended: its details and events reflecting our times, but its essence remaining the same: men and women returned to New Haven to demonstrate their appreciation of the outstanding education offered to them by Yale University and with the desire to do what they could to preserve and enhance those opportunities for future generations.

On Saturday morning, the Alumni Village was open at the Yale Bowl at 10 AM and at 12 PM the kickoff for the Yale-Princeton Football Game happened, a game that was exciting even until the last few seconds, when Yale prevailed.

November 21, 2022
Submitted by William H. H. Rees
YAA Representative, Yale College Class 1956