Discovering Yale, and Ourselves

Responses to this question ran the gamut from intellectual to inspiring to silly. There were memories of yet more professors who impacted our lives, but also stories of personal growth and self-awareness. Plus the very special places we discovered on the expansive Yale campus. It is heartening to know, after all these years, that many of these discoveries and insights changed our lives.
—Jean Parker Phifer

Question 7: What was the most amazing, impactful or unexpected discovery you made at Yale (or because of Yale)?

Ideas that mattered

Art history.

I would put this discovery in the category of “impactful” and I have to say that it was solidified at Yale rather than being totally new for me. It has to do with the importance of the psychoanalytic theory of psychology, which has become increasingly less popular over time. I had read Freud in high school, but it was at Yale where I met my first real-life psychoanalysts. As a family friend, I became particularly close to a professor at the Law School named Jay Katz. He was a practicing psychoanalyst and one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Jay actually became a lifelong mentor to me until his death in 2008. Just seeing how he lived his life and talking with him about psychoanalytic issues convinced me of the power of the theory’s ideas. In particular, the importance of the unconscious and the irrational, as well as the impact of early childhood, in guiding our lives was brought home to me. These ideas are at the core of the theory. If I had to rate the most meaningful experience of my entire Yale career, it would be the relationship I developed with Jay Katz.
Steve Bauer [SY]

I was depressed. About something, everything. I no longer remember. I think this was a bleak Sunday afternoon in March, during sophomore year. Maybe that alone explains it: sophomore slump and mud season. In any case, I decided that what I needed was to take a long, pensive walk and (for some reason) smoke a cigar. Never mind that I had never smoked anything before, let alone cigars. I went to the drugstore on the corner of Elm and York, and bought, well, something that seemed not too cheap but not too expensive (there wasn’t much of a choice anyway) and asked for a book of matches.

I wanted to wait until dusk to take my walk, however — dusk seemed ideal for brooding — so, tucking the cigar into my jacket pocket, I walked over to Sterling Library, to read. I found one of those leather-upholstered armchairs in the old Linonia and Brothers Reading Room, a place that always felt like a sanctuary to me — comfortable, pleasantly stuffy, with an air of ancient elegance. For a course on modernist literature, we were reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and I had arrived at the central section, “Time Passes.” I have my college paperback with me now, as I write. Just looking at the pages, with my penciled underlinings and clumsy marginal notes, brings back the sensation of being transported. I read and was absorbed. “So with the lamps all put out . . . a downpouring of immense darkness began.” I don’t think I had ever encountered writing that carried a story forward so magically, so captivatingly, not through straight narrative but with finely nuanced lyricism, through the music and rhythm of words, as if the language itself embodied — enacted — the felt reality of loss, erosion, ebbing, the fragility of life and the possibility of rescuing beloved things from “the pool of Time.” I fully lost myself. I read on and on. Tears wetting my cheeks, I lost my sadness.

It was already dusk when I finished the section. The catharsis was complete. I needed nothing more. And yet. I had bought that cigar and meant to smoke it. My melancholy now replaced by a sense of wonder and gratitude, I walked through the dark up Science Hill. At the very top, I turned to face the campus and, in the chill, lit a match . . . which went out. Lit again. Tried to light the cigar. Failed. Tried again. Suffice it to say that I finally, fumblingly, got the cigar going and forced myself to puff. You’re not supposed to inhale, right? You’re supposed to fold and caress the smoke in your mouth, suavely, like, I don’t know, the gentlemen of the Linonian Society. I did my best but began to feel queasy and had to stop. I made my way back down the hill as dizziness and nausea welled up within me. In my room, I lowered myself carefully into my bed, which seemed to pitch and roll as I closed my eyes. Breathing carefully, I fell into a deep sleep. I’ve never gone near a cigar again. But the wonder at what literature can do, and my gratitude — these abide.
Dan Laskin [ES]

In the course Introduction to Probability and Statistics, I was first exposed (only to be fully appreciated years later) to the amazing predictive opportunities inherent in stochastically distributed populations.
Ken McGuire [SY]

I don’t think it was any one class or project but rather being able to discover the discipline and rigor of Science Hill or study in the Music lab for a drop the needle final on all the Beethoven symphonies. Yale had it all. My fellow students were just as diverse in their pursuits as I was, and a pre-med classmate also could be found in the French literature class. After all the 4 years and forward, I have strived to have that same scope of learning in my own life
Jane Hamersley McLaughlin [BK]

I was profoundly moved to encounter the writing of Thorstein Veblen in a history class on Social Darwinism. As a child of Scandanavian immigrants to the United States, he experienced American society both as an insider and someone marginalized. He could see our best values and better impulses, but also use his detachment as a light illuminating injustice, hypocrisy, and cognitive dissonance. I remember his describing his uncomfortable position as like that of Jews: within, but always incurably an outsider. For him, it was both a liberating and a lonely place to stand: an opportunity to diagnose blind spots in the service of the Common Good. I’ve spent my career as a journalist and community organizer, reporting on both systemic inequity and what ordinary citizens are doing to move our behavior closer to matching the principles we proclaim. This early sociologist serves as a mentor: for his compassion, his hope, and his bracing lucidity.
Ariel Miller [ES]

THE BOOKSHELF: I believed that I was predestined to be a physician. Perhaps it was in the genes. But up until the time I got to Yale I had never given much thought to what my career in medicine could be. I hadn’t tinkered with home chemistry kits. I hadn’t, like the boy across the street, spent my high school weekends in the basement dissecting a fetal pig. But I did know that there were five “pre-med” college level courses that were prerequisites for applying to medical school in the future. I would take these but, as I loved all things French, I would major in French literature.

First semester, fall 1970, I enrolled in General Chemistry 10a taught by professors Wolfgang and Lyons. How difficult could that be? I had breezed through 11th grade chemistry. This would surely be a repeat. At the close of lecture #1 we were given assignments from the textbook and were informed that “extra reading was available on a specially marked shelf” in the CCL.

The Chemistry 10a section was its own two-shelf rolling wooden library. The titles covered every topic in the course syllabus: atomic and molecular structures, thermodynamics, etc. I didn’t see a “world of possibilities”; I was overwhelmed by the impossibility of mastering it all. The realization that subjects/courses did not have beginnings and endings completely contained within the covers of textbooks overwhelmed me. My still newly minted 17-year-old mind believed that there was a precise formula for learning/analyzing just about everything: science, history, even literature.

In Physics 12 (Dr. Firk) we discussed The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas Khun) and I then understood that just about every book on that Chemistry 10a rolling bookshelf could, in time, be replaced by others that espoused new paradigms.

Over the past 50 years I have matured a belief that science, medicine, art, literature are all creative processes and that the nominal boundaries that define them are in fact fluid and limitless. I have been both fortunate and humbled to have played a part and forged a career in the revolutionary and progressive field of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. A good part of what I practice is A.R.T. – Assisted Reproductive Technology. A marriage of science and art; what could be better than that?
Jane Miller [TD]

For my senior thesis, I wanted to write something groundbreaking on 19th century high Victorian Gothic architecture. I don’t remember how I discovered the original, handwritten draft of the revered art critic John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice preserved in the Beinecke Library, but it must have been my friend Steve Parks, a curator at the Beinecke, who suggested I look it up. It was pure joy to settle into the Beinecke rare book reading room several days a week to study this draft with exquisite penmanship, hand drawn illustrations and detailed side notations. I was transported back to the Victorian world of art, architecture and aesthetic criticism. It was thrilling to discover Ruskin’s original intent through close reading and evaluation. In comparing the original handwritten draft to the final printed version that would become an art world sensation in 1853, I identified several mistaken transpositions of the text that had changed Ruskin’s meaning. I was delighted to receive a prize from the Department of Art History, and an abridged version of the paper was published in the 1975 Yale University Library Gazette.
Jean Parker Phifer [JE]

I entered Yale dreaming I would become a stage actress; by the time I graduated, I knew I would become a writer. That discovery changed my life.

I wonder if this would have happened had it not been for two professors: Traugott Lawler, whose class on English literature I took as a freshman, and George Hersey, with whom I studied Italian Renaissance art, as a senior. Professor Lawler took me aside, during my very first semester, and encouraged me to become a writer; Professor Hersey, who indulged my tendency to imaginative leaps in several lengthy senior essays — one on Leonardo, another on the portrait busts of the sculptor Francesco Laurana — told me I should write “belle lettristic novels.”

There were other teachers, as well, who forever influenced the way I thought, read, and saw: Robert Lopez, in medieval studies, Vincent Scully in Greek architecture, Mark Rose in Shakespeare, Victor Brombert in Flaubert, and John Freccero in Dante.

The influence of Yale scholars did not end with my graduation. In 1990, I returned for an alumni seminar on medieval history led by the young, brilliant John Boswell. He had just published The Kindness of Strangers, about the abandonment of children from late antiquity to the Renaissance, a subject which fascinated me. When, years later, I began to work obsessively on my third novel, a story set in the twelfth century, Boswell’s book became a seminal source.

That novel, The Falcon’s Eyes, was published in 2022. Throughout the years of researching and writing it, I often thought of my courses in medieval studies as an undergraduate, as I also did of the advice George Hersey once memorably gave to me: “Whenever you are in doubt, invent.”
Francesca Stanfill [DC]

In May 1989 an American magazine, Smithsonian, sent me to China to write and photograph an apolitical article about the role of the bicycle in Chinese culture. My first morning in Beijing began apparently the first day that a million people went to Tiananmen Square, part of the massive protests of that spring. So I went to the square and realized this article would not be apolitical. In the coming days, I cycled and walked in and out of Tiananmen, often talking with demonstrators. (I was welcomed partly because I could tell them I was a teacher at Yale.) My planned structure for the article was picaresque: I would ramble, mostly by bicycle, through multiple regions of China, talking with whomever I met who also had a bicycle.

By early on June 4, I was in one of those outlying regions—sleeping in a monastery on a holy mountain above green rice paddies — when word reached us about killings in Tiananmen Square. The US government pushed me and other Americans to leave China to stay safe. While deciding, I became focused on a lesson from Yale’s great Shakespeare lectures as taught in the 1970s by Professor Alvin Kernan, and particularly on the structural-dramatic insights that Kernan offered us, often via the literary analysis of Northrop Frye. Frye argues that Shakespearean structure often pushes its characters out from a city to a greener world — to a forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, perhaps, or to an island in The Tempest — to places that bring new vision. But then the structure pulls them back to the city. So it pulled me back to Beijing, as instructed by Shakespeare as opposed to the US State Department. Was the return to tense Beijing worth making? I would love to hear classmates’ thoughts. The Wheels of Freedom, quite often republished and even taught at a few universities, is easy to find online.  An unexpected insight from my early Yale days — one that shaped my later Yale teaching—was the power that literary structures carry for those who seek to generate literary impact.
Fred Strebeigh [PC]

Following up on my response to week two’s question, the fact that we could have a personal relationship with God through Jesus His Son’s sacrificial death and resurrection on our behalf was the most amazing, impactful, and unexpected discovery I made at Yale. The Bible, which had been dense and impenetrable to me, became a living word. There were promises I could claim and goals to be pursued. I could see God’s working in my life and the lives of fellow believers. I did not seek to separate from the regular course of life in this world but to live it to the full as enabled by the Creator. I gained a new appreciation of Israel and its role in world affairs. These experiences have given me hope, infusing life with meaning and purpose, owed to connections made at Yale.
Sharon Vaino [SM]

Hard-earned insights

Before Yale, I had never competed on any varsity team at any level. At Yale, thanks to varsity athletics (fencing in my case), I discovered leadership and discipline. That changed my life more than anything until that time.
Steve Blum [BR]

My discovery was that I loved science and was not suited for what literary criticism actually turned out to be (I went to Yale for the English dept). Yale obviously had/has the great humanities reputation rather than in the sciences, but the biology dept had many excellent, extremely nice, and concerned faculty- Sussex, Altman, Thomson, Waterman, Rosenbaum, Fruton, Kankel, as did chemistry- Wasserman, Sturtevant, Crothers. I found those departments to be warmer and less arrogant environments than the English department in which I was admittedly a relative failure. The English dept was very much impressed with itself- the sciences, not being as glorified, were just more undergraduate friendly, down to earth places. I know others will disagree strongly with this!

That I was not an innovative writer like my idols. It took decades for me to embrace my inner hackdom and, to paraphrase Anne Lamott, not be afraid of the shitty writing.
Steven Kimball [MC]

What were the traditional rites of passage at Yale? I didn’t even know where Louie dwelled or what Temple bar they loved so well. So when I got there, everything seemed wondrous.

It has been the mission of my life since graduation to comprehend the lessons offered to me and make sense of the opportunities presented by a world so different from the one I was born to. I arrived at Yale ill-equipped to understand the possibilities ahead. From where I grew up, I could not even imagine them let alone know how to navigate the course. There was no one among my family, friends or teachers who could tell me what to expect or how to get the most out of the opportunity. You, my classmates, provided the help I needed to keep my head above water. I shall be forever grateful.

I arrived from a small town that was shrinking into oblivion as have so many of America’s rural communities. The library was a bookmobile that parked on the side of the road for a couple of hours every other week. My high school graduating class had less than 100 students and no one had gone to college outside California in the history of the school. Many ended their formal education with 12th grade and too many, sooner.  Mine was the first generation in my family to attend college.  To me, I was a stranger in the strange land of Yale. There were no advanced placement classes. Whiffenpoof was a game the math teacher kept on his shelf. There was no one to tell me what “Office Hours” were, what legendary professors I should seek out. What classes were needed to prepare for graduate school? What were the traditional rites of passage at Yale? I didn’t even know where Louie dwelled or what Temple bar they loved so well. So when I got there, everything seemed wondrous and there was much more to learn than the questions I had prepared. I was always trying to catch up.

Now, if you want to know how I got there, that story will cost you a drink at the reunion.
Rusty Cates [CC]

A psychological discovery that has stood me in good stead my whole life: I wasn’t the smartest or most talented person in any Yale room. So, now what? Very helpful! Made me focus on what I got done and who I helped rather than wasting time protecting my self-esteem. In the corporeal realm, I loved the steam tunnels SO much! Also the 8th floor Payne Whitney room with the rose stained glass window. I didn’t know you could sweat in a lovely setting! This is where Kiphuth led swimmers (and anyone else who wanted to join) in “Body Building,” forevermore abbreviated to BB in our household and a mainstay of strength, cardio, and agility training ever since, especially for Tony. The phrase, “BB saved my life ” is repeated often.
Joan Hendricks Garvan [CC]

It’s a good thing you specified “the most important” experience. I had many experiences there that changed my life, such as my first real appreciations of film and of music; reading Plato with Robert Brumbaugh, Aristotle with Rulon Wells, and Heidegger with Karsten Harries; realizing I am gay, with which some of my Yale crowd helped; and deeper, better, more mature friendships than I had hitherto known — though almost none of these have lasted. One night, I believe in sophomore year, I was tripping with a classmate who left Yale early and never graduated. In the course of things — specifically sitting with him in a Saybrook stairwell — I thought that if you always get out of things what you put into them, this meant that I need never be bored because what situations or experiences gave me I would get by the attention I paid and the inner resources I brought to bear. From that day to this I have never once felt bored. I avoid people who talk about their being bored. I never say, I’m bored, or this bores me, because I simply never am bored. And never will be. That was the most transformative experience I had at Yale.
Bennett Gilbert [SY]

My Yale experience helped me understand what a narrow and privileged upbringing I had. I went to a fairly small all-boys private school and had no sister. We went to church almost every Sunday, and I was able to play golf and tennis and to swim at a nearby country club. In the back of my mind, I think I knew that Yale would challenge that upbringing, and I would benefit from that.
George Hauptfuhrer [MC]

I learned that I could make good decisions about me. Before heading off to college, I ran all my decisions by my father, a brilliant and kind man who I adored. It was scary doing this all by myself. But I learned how to trust my intuition and my research, despite the trepidation. Today I still think about what my father, dead more than a decade, might advise. But I learned at Yale that I do know what’s best for me.
Beth Rosenthal [BK]

I did not discover this tidbit in a book or a class but on the bulletin board of the MIT boathouse. I was a member of the Lightweight Crew, and we were racing MIT on the Charles River. What was most surprising about it was that I found it at MIT, not typically viewed as a bastion of athletic talent. And here it is: “Athletic ability is a form of intelligence.” This statement was meaningful to me not only because it was supportive of my meager athletic endeavors but because it captured the division at Yale between the purely academic and the development of the whole person. Over the years I had very good experience hiring good athletes with modest GPAs.
Dan Rouse [CC]

I think back on what I learned at Yale and some things are obvious. I learned how to think and how to write.  I learned how big the world was.   I also learned how to be successful in institutions formed by and for men, and I learned how hard you had to fight to achieve success there.  I also learned how to swear,  which, if I’m honest, is a skill more valuable than writing in achieving success in worlds dominated by men. 

One of the things that came to me reunion weekend was that I also found my resilience at Yale.  It is deeply ironic that we reune around an anniversary of the D-Day invasion.  Yale‘s approach to women in our class was pretty much the same as Eisenhower’s approach to the invasion on Omaha Beach: just put these young men in boats and throw them up on the beach.  Sure,  a lot of them will die, but enough of them will survive to achieve our objective.   Instead of men in boats insert women on plastic mattresses and there you have it—Yale’s theory of coeducation at a time of “A thousand male leaders a year.”  

We women did survive, and the experience taught us how to survive adversity without support.  This skill, resilience, is arguably the most important life skill there is and I found mine at Yale.  We also led, but of course, we were always going to. 

I had been thinking about this metaphor as only about what happened to women at Yale until reunion.  But as I visited with  my classmates and thought about those we have lost, I find that Yale did that to all of us— not just the women.  Yale offered all of  us, male and female: here is the world, glorious, exhilarating, terrifying, intimidating  and magnificent.  It will not protect you.  Yale challenged us to find our talent, our voice, our heart and our community and to make great things of them. I’m grateful for all of it — especially the very hard parts.
—Amanda Birrell [DC]

Special places

One dark Friday night, sometime between 1:00 and 2:00 AM, two friends and I got a serious case of the munchies. We decided to head down High Street towards Chapel Street to the only place that we thought might still be open at that hour. As we stumbled along in the darkness, we saw a crack of light briefly emanating from a mysterious, nearly windowless building that seemed never to have any activity. A huge door had opened then quickly closed, and the light disappeared. We were so astounded that we ran up and tried to open it. When that failed, we began banging on this very tall iron door, making a loud echoing sound. We continued banging without much expectation when suddenly it opened just wide enough for the building’s occupant to warily poke his head out. We found ourselves staring eye to eye with a guy who was as stoned as we were, which was saying a lot. He had been alone inside the building and our banging had freaked him out. We still didn’t understand what this building was but were anxious to find out, so we started talking our way inside. The guy was so out of it that he didn’t put up much resistance. As we bombarded him with questions, he began showing us around, ascending the stairs to the second floor. As we walked along a hallway, we passed various collections of animal bones and human skeletons, including the supposed bones of some famous people. I remember seeing the skull of the famous Apache warrior Geronimo. Each skull or skeleton was labeled with a written tag showing the names and delegation of the Yalies responsible for its theft. This was a museum filled with ghoulish plunder.

We were sophomores and knew nothing about secret societies. We had no idea that this was in fact the tomb of Skull & Bones. Our tour eventually took us back down to the first floor where we entered a Great Hall at least two stories tall. There, covering the entire back wall that stretched perhaps 100 feet, was a gallery of animal head trophies, many exotic, some enormous. This international collection might make one think they were in a hunting lodge, except the distinctive feature of all these so-called trophies was that the flesh had been completely removed and all that remained were the skulls, many with horns or antlers. It was jaw-dropping and bizarre. About this time another Bonesman appeared. To say he was disapproving of his fellow delegate’s indiscretion in letting us in is an understatement. With that, our chastised guide decided that the tour was over, and it was time for us to leave. He quickly ushered us to the front door. We suddenly found ourselves back outside, standing in front of the tomb in the dark, still high and not entirely sure of what we had just seen. It wasn’t until weeks later that we realized where we had been, and it wasn’t until my senior year that I started to really appreciate what I had witnessed. Skull & Bones was considered the most elite and most secretive of Yale’s secret societies, but most people knew little else about them, certainly not that they possessed all these stolen relics. On our stoned munchie walk, my friends and I had discovered that this esteemed society was merely a band of glorified grave robbers. Despite this revelation, I’m honored to be among what I imagine is a very small group of non-members to have ever seen inside this tomb.

Yale Art Gallery roof. Photo by Bill Wilkins ‘74.

Sculpture Garden at Yale Art Gallery

There were numerous unexpected discoveries for me at Yale. Given that I never visited the Yale campus prior to arriving as a freshman and thus never got the highlights tour. My prior knowledge of Yale came from my father, who was an alum, 30 years prior to me.

THE SCULPTURE GARDEN AT THE ART GALLERY My go-to place for quiet outdoor reading on a warm Spring or Fall day. (I was a Literature Major; there was a LOT of reading.) Also, the Sculpture Garden was a great setting for the occasional student theatrical production. Most notably a production of Measure for Measure, which is briefly discussed in an earlier Survey Response.

BEINECKE RARE BOOK LIBRARY I spent hours and hours in Beinecke. It has always been an essential visit when I am back in New Haven. It spurred my lifelong interest in rare books. Not that I have had the wherewithal to personally pursue that interest in much depth.

INGALLS RINK “The Whale” was a fascinating place to watch (and occasionally play) ice hockey. (Related sidebar re Ingalls: my student job from sophomore year to senior year was in the Gibbs Physics building Machine Shop which built much of the machinery and electronic equipment related to various grant projects. My Machine Shop supervisor was Canadian and well-connected to the Canadians playing on the varsity & JV hockey teams at the time. He always had back-door access to Ingalls for every home game. Which meant I also had back-door access through the exterior door where they stored the Zamboni.)

The amazing architecture of the various Senior Societies.
Colly Burgwin [SY]

Yale Elizabethan Club. Drawing by Richard Rose

Elizabethan Club, drawing by Richard Rose

One of my best discoveries at Yale was the Elizabethan Club, hiding in plain sight just off the Cross Campus. The members, a wonderful mix of English majors, historians, linguists, avid readers and other nerds including graduate students and faculty, met for late afternoon tea. We had spirited conversations about literature, art, and all manner of arcane topics, often heading out in warm weather for raucous croquet games in the rear yard. A stern portrait of Queen Elizabeth I watched over the tea table which featured a reliable rotation of dainty sandwiches (which I still remember, oddly) every afternoon (Monday — tomato, Tuesday — egg salad, Wednesday — chicken salad, Thursday — ham salad, Friday — tuna salad, Saturday — PB & J, Sunday — date/nut bread). The tea was a variant of Earl Grey with smoky notes (now replaced by a more anodyne English breakfast). Once a month the librarian would open the walk-in bank vault in the back of the building that housed treasures of Shakespearean and other 17th century literature and arts.  We never got tired of examining these priceless volumes which would normally be sequestered in a museum like the Beinecke. It was our very own treasure trove.
Jean Parker Phifer [JE]

The Yale Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, the Old Yale Art Gallery, the High Street Bridge, and Street Hall. I liked the way the Louis Kahn building opened onto the Sculpture Garden. I could go from Brancusi’s “Yellow Bird” inside to Henry Moore’s, “Draped Seated Woman” outside. I remember the enormous Picasso painting “First Steps,” which made quite an impression on my daughter. Although I had favorite pieces and would visit them, it was the experience of communing with the works in the entire complex that captivated me, the journey from modern to ancient as I moved through the galleries and buildings. I liked getting lost in them. I would go out of my way to walk through them on my way to somewhere else. I realized how long a journey could be and of what was not represented there, as well. Once, when going through the elaborate passageway of the High Street Bridge, above the rush of cars, below, I understood that for a nanosecond, a driver and I shared time in a near-space in the universe and could not meet. It made me want to study physics.
Patricia Sheppard [DC]

The summer of 1973 I decided to remain in New Haven and needed employment. I was hired by the Yale Physical Plant, and my job was to clean up “The Blueprint Room”. “The Blueprint Room” contained — yes, you guessed it!! — ALL of the blueprints (architectural, plumbing, electrical, etc.) for ALL of the buildings on campus. These blueprints ranged from original plans to the designs for all the renovations that have taken place at Yale over the years. The room itself was long and narrow with chest-high, wooden cabinets running along every wall. These cabinets were made up of many wide, skinny, and front-to-back deep drawers that held blueprints lying flat. Above the cabinets were cubby holes that ranged all the way to the ceiling and which filled the entire room above all of the cabinets. Every drawer and every cubby was neatly labeled as to what could be found within, and absolutely nothing was where it was supposed to be. THAT was my job for the summer!!! I learned incredible things about the buildings at Yale during that time and developed a great appreciation for the architects and maintenance people who worked with those plans day-in-and day-out to keep everything functioning smoothly all over campus. Yes, I did get it completely organized by the end of the summer, but how long it remained that way is anyone’s guess!
Singie Shepley-Gamble [BK]

The people around us

 Female classmates! I did not know that Yale had embraced coeducation and was delighted to discover this on my arrival following graduation from an all-male boarding school (therefore lacking any prior “adolescent” coed experiences). So while some freshman male classmates felt that there was a paucity of opportunities for female friendships/relationships, I was overwhelmed (matriculating at Yale having just turned 17). And, boy, did I get an education!!
Mark Cramolini [DC]

I had no clue that as I left Yale in the rear-view mirror in May of 1974 how truly impactful my intellectual capabilities were. The reading and teaching in each class, no matter what the subject, has led to an even greater understanding of the world in ways I could not imagine. A pre-med music major can grasp multiple disciplines with curiosity and the ability to grasp a subject only possible because of Yale. Just as important were my classmates and friends that made these learning opportunities magical and challenging as we talked for hours together in the dining halls, dorm rooms, or anywhere that we found each other. Thank you, Yale and the Class of 1974
Jane Hamersley McLaughlin [BK]

John Healey: Life lessons through baseball

My social awareness was raised at Yale, not in the classroom or library, but on the baseball field and in turbulent New Haven. During our team’s spring southern training trip in Mobile, Alabama, I was exposed to overt racism that, in my sheltered New England experience, I didn’t realize still existed. Racial epithets directed at our Leroy Rodman and our University of Tennessee opponent’s star shortstop, Condredge Holloway, were shocking. The athletes showed their moral superiority with uncompromised performance. Their response was profoundly impressive. It changed my world perspective. In contrast, soon after graduation, Gary Stein, another baseball teammate, was murdered during a robbery with racial overtones on the edge of the Yale campus. Although deeply saddened and angered, I chose what was a safe response to combat these problems through education while pursuing my own medical career. These experiences informed my philanthropic support of educational programs for underprivileged children in New York and my dedication to training the most minority specialists in my field of medicine. Sports and New Haven’s urban challenges spawned Yale’s most lasting contribution to my intellectual development. I am proud of my incremental contributions in the educational field that these experiences motivated, yet there is much more to be done: another lesson of a Yale education.
John Healey [ES]

The discovery that impacted me the most was the intelligence and breadth of interest of other members of the Class of 1974. While I had met smart people before, I had never been in such a concentration of talent and ambition. Ordinary lunch and dinner conversations often brought nuggets of fascinating information, and sometimes these conversations opened up entire vistas of which I had been unaware. About 50% of my education consisted of classwork (which was very good) and about 50% was material I learned from classmates.
Robin Lee [SM]

When I was in my sophomore year in that beautiful two-bedroom suite with the paneled walls and fireplace, I suggested that we get a Christmas tree. But as it turned out, two of the other guys in the room were Jewish and the other was Muslim. None of the others were interested in my idea. The incident underscores just how diverse the people and ideas were at Yale. I learned that you have to give other people space to let them be themselves and can’t be doctrinaire. The whole world operates that way.
Bill Lunn [JE]

To me, Yale fostered an openness to new and different ideas — and people. I grew up in blue collar, heavily ethnic and Catholic, Dearborn, Michigan. There were no Jewish people in my life growing up. Indeed, some of my friends and teammates were Arab-American. At Yale, I quickly made Jewish friends, even visiting their families during breaks. I guess it came as no surprise that I married a Jewish woman, enjoyed learning some Yiddish and Jewish geography and later becoming a Jew-by-Choice. Once, at a synagogue reception, a fellow Yale classmate, Larry, looking bewildered, asked, “Jim, what brings you here?” I became a 10-year Board of Directors member there (I guess following Kingman Brewster’s dictum about “1,000 male leaders”).
Jim Pavle [BK]

Career possibilities

Sony VO 1600 Umatic Video Cassette Recorder

I was an AV geek, projecting 16 mm movies at the Yale Law School Film Society, Linsly-Chit, and other locations around campus. In the fall of our sophomore year, I heard about this thing called a “Sony Umatic” video tape recorder, and it occurred to me that, “Someday, you’ll probably be able to go into a library and check out a movie like you can check out a book.” Fast forward to a career in consumer electronics during the explosive growth of the home video industry.

I started Yale assuming a future in science and law. But incompatibility with my science classes and a need to find a career not requiring me to sit all day led me back to an old interest in the rather new field of children’s educational TV (Sesame Street premiered in November 1969). Thinking I needed to learn something about teaching and learners, I enrolled in a teacher training class, and I discovered a passion and talent for teaching. For 50+ years now I have loved the performing art of engaging and persuading the recalcitrant to the enthusiastic in my “audiences.” I am grateful for that opportunity.

I remember early days in my first-year Early Concentration English seminar, sitting around Maynard Mack’s long, beautifully burnished table in Davenport, hearing one brilliant comment after another whiz by me. Realizing for the first time how much I was going to learn from my peers was a powerful revelation, a tad intimidating but altogether inspiring. I knew I had to put myself into overdrive to keep up, but more important, I knew to attend with 360º alertness if I was to get all I might from our vibrant intellectual environment. Having since become a teacher myself, I’ve carried into my classrooms the recognition that students learn most from one another, I hope with some of the impact that Professor Mack achieved in his shrewdly tempered, gently enabling way.

“Discovery” suggests something somehow uncovered before anyone else had done so. That was not my experience at Yale. I came to Yale expecting to find what many other people had found before me: exciting intellectual experiences. Almost everything was new to me. What stands out in my memory are Robert Ferris Thompson’s discoveries of the links between African art and American art forms; the anthropological work of Levi-Strauss and the philosophy of Hegel; fun if scary experiments in chem lab; the bountiful wildlife in the marshes outside New Haven.

I discovered that I enjoyed the smorgasbord of antics, enthusiasms, obsessions, and personalities of the people around me—a perfect antidote to my shy and bookwormish self. What eventually determined my careers as a professor and a psychoanalyst, was discovering the field of literary theory (thank you Lit Major and “Yale School” professors Geoffrey Hartman, Harold Bloom, Michael Holquist, Alvin Kernan, and John Freccero!). I discovered an aptitude for historical research, drawing, and physics — totally unexpected. And most importantly, I found a way to concentrate without that pesky inner voice criticizing me for not already knowing what I was trying to learn.

I quickly learned that academically, I was really just a substantially-sized fish from a limited educational pond.

I discovered my lack of high quality elementary and high school education. I was (duh) only vaguely aware of the concept of “prep schools.” While growing up in a Chicago-area, suburban, public school setting, as a freshman at Yale — I quickly learned that academically, I was really just a substantially-sized fish from a limited educational pond. Still am (did you read that last sentence?). My freshman roommates were from Groton, Hotchkiss, and Pembroke Country Day — all academically much better prepared than I (and very smart dudes). My freshman bursary job, bussing tables and washing dishes at JE (in my white Dining Hall jacket), completed my initiation to Yale. I found that the Yale Daily News was a huge time sink and cliquish. So, I instinctively concluded that I needed to find an academic niche where I might survive and possibly flourish. Thus, in Becton’s Davies Auditorium, I endured the 1970 “Introduction to Computer Science”… and thereafter, I took all the C.S. courses that I could. And after graduation, I worked for IBM for 30 years. So it goes.
Thomas Corbi [TC]

My unexpected discovery during my Yale years was that I was interested in cognitive and perceptual psychology. I started Yale as a physics major but by sophomore year had switched to Computer Science (as is detailed in my answer to an earlier question). In those first two years, it never occurred to me to major in psych, a subject in which my father earned two and 1/2 degrees. But after a few psychology courses and individual study with a professor who was both a computer scientist and a psychologist, I transitioned from Computer Science to using computers to model human cognitive processes, then continued to graduate school in psychology. So unexpectedly, I followed in my father’s footsteps.
Jeff Johnson [CC]

David Milch taught a creative writing seminar, spring of ‘74. He had each of us run a session. No writing critiques as I recall. My strongest memory is of his description of how he, as a gambling addict, chose quarter-horse races to satisfy his jones — for the obvious reason: their races are only a quarter-mile long so you get near-instant gratification. The final was a piece of fiction. I locked myself in a friend’s off-campus empty apartment and wrote for three days. My first real short story.
Phyllis Orrick [TD]

The splendors of the arts

Yale Women’s Slavic Chorus

My discovery opened a whole new form of music and culture for me. In high school I sang in the Glee Club, your typical traditional singing group. I don’t remember many of the songs except for a song with the lyrics of the poet Langston Hughes. We wore white shirts and blue skirts. Pretty nondescript. As a freshman at Yale, I heard a Women’s Slavic Chorus concert. I was blown away. The music was so invigorating and energetic. I loved the white voice tone, the dissonant harmonies, the complex rhythms, the high pitched “yeeks,” and even the colorful costumes. I had never heard anything like it before. I joined the group as soon as I could and sang in it for the next three years.

Native women sang these folk tunes in fields as they worked. We sang in the Serbo-Croatian language. The translations are mostly simple love stories around village life. Envision the women taking a break, putting their hands on their hips, and bellowing out the tunes. At times, one opens the throat to create almost a controlled screech.

An all-women’s singing group was wonderful. Since Yale had recently gone co-ed, the female—male ratio was out of whack. Finding women friends was huge. Our weekly rehearsals were fun and joyful. I became the Business Manager, meaning I was to secure concerts. I’ll never forget our concert at Ethel Walker, a girls’ boarding school, in Simsbury, Connecticut. Driving in several cars, some members got lost, arriving rather chaotically. (This was the time before cell phones and GPS.) We were behind the stage frantically getting changed into our costumes when I pulled out the bottle of vodka — a “cultural” tradition to clear our throats before each concert. I was waving the bottle above my head to pass it around when this extremely stern-looking matronly hostess appeared. I almost passed the bottle to her! Whoops. I just remember the look of disdain on her face. Oh well. We got to the stage and, without any inhibition, belted out our songs.
Cilla Leavitt [TC]

This is an easy one for me. I have two answers. Sophomore year, I signed up for Mrs. Hanson’s class on Impressionism. It literally changed my life. Having basically paid no attention to the visual arts up until that time, I completely fell in love with painting. For the rest of my time at Yale, I took at least one, sometimes two, courses a semester in the Art History Department. Chinese painting with the extraordinary Richard Barnhart, Gothic cathedral architecture with Mr. Crosby — those courses gave me a gift which has vastly enriched my subsequent life. And the second gift came in the Music Department Senior year with the course on Romantic vocal music. I became a song composer and lifelong opera groupie because of that course.
Frederick Peters [BK]