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Preparing for Global Citizenship
The Freshman Address

Members of the class of 2010, I am delighted to join Dean Salovey in welcoming you to Yale College. And I want to extend a warm welcome also to the parents, relatives, and friends who have accompanied you here. To the parents especially, I want to say thank you for entrusting your very talented and promising children to us. They are going to have a great time here!

“Tens of thousands of students who have preceded you are footing half the bill for your education.”

There is so much in store for you. Nearly 2,000 courses, a library with endless treasures, fabulous museum collections, one of the world’s most distinguished faculties, abundant athletic opportunities, and over 250 student organizations that encourage your participation in music, theater, journalism, debate, politics, and community service. There are caring masters, deans, faculty, and freshman counselors to help and advise you. And a campus architecture that is as inspiring as any in America. When it comes to deciding how to exercise your mind, your body, or your voice, the choices are entirely your own. And you will get back what you put in; the benefits from the activities and pursuits you choose will be proportionate to the effort, commitment, and passion that you devote to them.

By the way, the extraordinary array of curricular and extracurricular options available to you didn’t get here by accident. The cost of providing them, believe it or not, is only half paid for by those of you whose families are paying the full tuition, room, and board bill without financial aid. We can offer you so much because tens of thousands of students who have preceded you have recognized the unique value of their Yale College experience, and it is they, through their generous gifts past and present, who are footing half the bill for your education. Future generations will count on your contributions in the decades to come, but, for now, Yale’s resources are all yours, for four glorious years.

Why, you might ask, do we shower you with such an abundance of learning and living opportunities? Why do we invest in you?

The answer is simple: because you are the future. You are immensely talented, and you have the capacity to make the world a better place. Most of you will think I am talking not about you but about your amazing suitemate who seems to have accomplished so much, or the person in the next entryway who seems so much better prepared and so much more self-confident. But, no, I am talking about each and every one of you. Every one of you has the potential to make a difference.

“We need you. There is so much to be done.”

And we need you. There is so much to be done. Global security is threatened by a new war in the Middle East and a persistent terrorism that strikes almost randomly at civilized peoples around the world. Global prosperity is threatened. Just six weeks ago, the global free trade regime that has brought hundreds of millions out of poverty in the past quarter century was placed in jeopardy by the parochialism of nations unable to see the common good. And our global environment is threatened. Unless we resolve to cooperate and do something about it, the biodiversity of the planet will continue to diminish at an alarming rate and global warming will transform the conditions of life and livelihood around the world.

Thanks to a revolution in communications, our world is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before in human history. Clearly, we need to understand each other better. Can Hezbollah and Israel coexist in peace? Why does Al Qaeda continue to attract young men willing to kill themselves and blow up trains, planes, and buildings? Why are the Europeans refusing to open their agricultural markets, thus impeding the continued liberalization of trade that has contributed so much to the progress of developing and developed countries alike? And why isn’t America leading the world’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather than dragging its feet?

How can your Yale College experience prepare you to address questions like these? How can you use your time at Yale to prepare for global citizenship? Dean Salovey has already given part of the answer. He offered evidence that people with different cultural backgrounds and different languages see the world differently. And he suggested that bringing together classmates of diverse national origins or cultural backgrounds enriches the learning experience for everyone, improving our understanding of common subjects of inquiry. But this is not the only virtue of creating an internationally diverse student body. It also helps us to understand one another.

“Each of you can, without much effort, become close friends with at least one classmate from another country.”

For Americans, understanding the thinking and beliefs of people living in China, India, the Middle East, and Africa is crucial if we are to secure peace, promote prosperity, and protect the environment throughout the 21st century. Understanding Americans is no less important to Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and Africans. As Yale students, your opportunity to get to know students from other countries is far greater today than it was even very recently. When I greeted my first freshman class as president of Yale thirteen years ago, only one student in fifty came from a foreign country other than Canada. Today, the number is one in twelve.

The increased representation of students from around the world has a major implication for those of you who are Americans or Canadians. It means that each of you can, without much effort, become close friends with at least one classmate from a country quite different from your own. This can be a very important start in broadening your perspective on the world. You each have a chance to begin your exploration of the world—its peoples and their diverse values—right here in New Haven. And for those of you who come from abroad, you have an extraordinary opportunity to get to know America and some very talented and promising Americans. We will do all we can to make you welcome here.

But forming friendships is only the beginning of the work that each of you needs to do to become an informed global citizen capable of bringing the world closer together. You also need to educate yourself about the world. Fortunately, you will find that over 600 of the courses available to you deal with the language, literature, art, music, history, religion, culture, politics, economics, and sociology of other nations. I hope you will explore these subjects for the pure joy of learning about them, but I also hope that you will take time to reflect on how learning about other cultures informs your thinking about the issues that we as global citizens must confront. I would recommend, most of all, that those of you who are native English-speakers master at least one foreign language to the point of true fluency. Your understanding of a foreign culture will be so very much deeper if you know the language.

Finally, let me urge you to spend time abroad. With the adoption of the Report of the Committee on Yale College Education in 2003, it became an expectation that all Yale College graduates will spend a year, a semester, or at least a summer engaged in study programs or work experiences overseas. To make this expectation feasible for all, we announced in 2005 that additional funding would be provided during summers to make it possible for students on financial aid to work or study abroad. This past academic year and summer over 900 undergraduates participated in Yale-sponsored work internships, study programs, or independent research projects overseas, and by the time you finish your sophomore year, we expect that there will be a Yale-sponsored overseas opportunity for every member of your class.

There is simply no substitute for spending time in another country, immersed in another culture. Very few experiences in life provide greater insight into the strengths and limitations of one’s own culture and values; very few experiences teach more about how to understand others. My wife and I spent two and a half of our undergraduate and graduate student years abroad. Our experience in Italy inspired a lifelong interest in the aesthetics of the visual arts and architecture, and our time in England exposed us to a degree of commitment to the life of the mind barely imaginable to pragmatic Americans. And yet our experience abroad also helped us to savor all the more the optimism, toleration, and democratic impulses of Americans unencumbered by the historical legacy of social class and status. We not only learned to appreciate Botticelli and the Oxford don, but Whitman, too.

“A Yale education is not just for your own personal benefit.”

If you take the time to get to know one another and the diverse points of view and values that you represent, if you inform yourselves about the world through your studies and your daily reading, if you learn a language, and if you study or work abroad—preferably for more than a single summer, you will be a more fully educated person. And you will be far better prepared for the global careers that will be possible, indeed inevitable, for your generation.

But I am suggesting more, because a Yale education is not just for your own personal benefit. Given the enormous investment that we, and your families, are making in you, you will leave here not only with abundant opportunities but also responsibilities, responsibilities akin to those borne by generations of Yale graduates before you, but different. Your predecessors were the stewards, first of the Connecticut Colony, then of the young Republic occupying part of the east coast of North America, and then of the vast nation spanning a continent and seeking to spread its message of freedom around the globe. Your responsibility will be different. You will be the stewards of a small planet, an interconnected world with a diverse array of peoples, cultures, and beliefs coexisting interdependently. The challenge before you is immense and without precedent. But it is a challenge worthy of your talent and promise. Seize every moment of these next four years. Take advantage of all that Yale offers. Pursue your passions, and prepare yourselves for global citizenship. Welcome to Yale. 



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