The Yale Difference

Possibly due to selection bias, nearly everyone who replied to this question identified important, life-enriching contributions.  In almost every other respect, the responses were remarkably diverse.  Although a few classmates said that Yale put them directly onto a professional track, most credited their college years with having subtler, even if profound, influences.  And, as if to demonstrate that the contrarian spirit still lives among us, one respondent reported that his Yale education did “[n]ot really” affect his professional future at all.

The following, otherwise unedited responses are grouped into five categories: Yale (1) shaped my outlook, taught me how to think and write; (2) fostered curiosity, confidence, and receptivity; (3) opened doors and led to connections; (4) started me on my career, and (5) didn’t make much of a difference.  As you will see as you read on, many of the thoughtful, complex ruminations confound or transcend this categorical scheme.  But what would you expect?  In our experience, our classmates’ thoughts and reactions have always defied simple classification.
–Dick Fallon and Brad Graham

Question 10: How did your Yale experience make a difference in your subsequent career?

Shaped My Outlook, Thinking, Writing

Although I loved Yale for its academics, Yale shaped my career more by the outlook it gave me on life — that outlook being taking some risks, staying open to adventures, and creating meaningful relationships. I initially went to New York City like many of my classmates. I knew my strengths were working with people. My first job was at the American Field Service. I believed in the mission of the organization — international education and trips to promote global connectedness. After a year, I headed for the mountains and signed up for a NOLS semester course. This is a school of the outdoors. I had a strong pull to be totally immersed in nature. And talk about an adventure! I lived in a tent for four months in Wyoming. After that, I was a courier in the Frontier Nursing Service in eastern Kentucky. I traveled around the countryside bringing health care to Appalachian folk. It was fantastic to submerge yourself in Bluegrass music, folk art, and snake charmers! Hollins College in Virginia, then hired me to create an outdoor program. I named it HOP — Hollins Outdoors Program. It was a fantastic job for a young person —we had adventures in the Blue Ridge Mountains — hiking, cycling, rock climbing, caving, white water canoeing or rafting, backpacking. During summers I was a counselor at North Carolina Outward Bound, in beautiful Pisgah National Forest. I returned to Yale, this time to the Yale Forestry School. I worked for Weyerhaeuser in Oregon before returning to New Haven where I settled for 35 years. I taught history and environmental science at Hopkins but kept my love of the outdoors alive with starting up FOOT, First-Year Outdoor Orientation Trips at Yale and still direct it after 40 years! I have outlived 6 deans! (You will hear more about this in next week’s question.) In the middle of all this, I bought a Vermont farm, raised grass-fed organic beef, and started a wedding venue with a spectacular view of the Green Mountains. So, classmates…if you need to renew your vows, see me!
Cilla Leavitt [TC]

Yale had significant, albeit indirect, effects on my career. After graduating from Yale College, I received a degree from Yale Law School and began working as a lawyer. When reflecting on the specifics of my undergraduate course work, including a focus in Medieval European History, it seems that not much of what I learned was useful in my profession. One year of Calculus as a freshman? A one-on-one tutorial in Latin? A survey of Italian city-states during the Renaissance? All were to some degree interesting, but not subjects covered on the New York Bar Exam. On the other hand, and more importantly, my Yale experience affected my career in major ways. First, it taught me that hard work yields benefits. I was a high achiever in high school but the achievements came fairly easily. Yale was tougher, filled with smart (often smarter!) students. I learned that I had to work hard to hold my own, an attitude that served me well in my career. Second, I learned to meet deadlines. I was part of the Directed Studies program and in one course during freshman year we were required to write a weekly paper, submitting it for class review every Monday. With a deadline looming each week, procrastination was not an option and weekend fun often had to be sacrificed. In learning to set priorities and to meet deadlines, I absorbed skills that were obviously beneficial to my legal work. Third, Yale exposed me to people from a broad range of backgrounds, different from mine and most of the people I had previously known. It was incredibly exciting to become friends with students from different parts of the US and multiple foreign countries. My horizons expanded and I developed a greater appreciation and respect for the diversity of human experience, a more open attitude that was of enormous value in my career.
 Steven Davis [ES]

Yale taught me how to think, how to communicate, how to persuade, how to navigate uncertainty, and how to lead. Much of this was from my time on the Fencing Team, and as Captain.
Steve Blum [BR]

Prior to college I didn’t have a lot of intellectual curiosity. That changed at Yale, and has sustained me through a career in academic medicine. The specific content that I focused on as a psychology major, as well as the habit of thinking critically, became the foundation for a line of research that has continued to evolve over the past 40 years. The basic approach required in term papers — demonstrate that you understand where a field of research currently is and use creative thinking to consider how the research area can be advanced — has again been foundational to the approach I’ve taken in my career. The fact that I attended Yale opened doors, but the ultimate determinants of success were the skills and habits of thought that I acquired as an undergraduate. I’m very appreciative for having had that experience.
Richard Lane [TD]

It would be an understatement to say that Yale had an effect on my career. Looking back, I realize I was one of the few people I met at Yale who actually knew when they matriculated exactly what they were going to study at college and pursue as a subsequent career. I chose a major to build my language and cultural fluency in my intended geographic area, attended summer school for more language training, took advantage of a student organization which provided for a summer working overseas in my target country, and (I’m assuming) my good grades at Yale plus some faculty endorsements allowed me to obtain a post-grad fellowship overseas for another year of language training. However, an even more important Yale experience was having to work my way through school with part-time student jobs and off-campus night shift work. Together with a full course schedule, it kept me extremely busy from morning to evening for most of my four years at Yale, including weekends. I believe it was this training which allowed me to persevere through an arduous two years earning my MBA, and then climbing the corporate ladder for twelve years before spending the rest of my life (including now) as an entrepreneur, creating new businesses from scratch. Setting goals, preparing implementation plans and executing the plans all require hard work and dedication, which is one of the main lessons I absorbed at Yale.

My father paid for my Yale education. But I paid for my real estate education. And it turned out to be a lot more expensive!!!! I was a history major with a minor in German language. Those two taught me how to think critically. But I became a real estate investor, a caring landlord and start-up principal. I spent more time with plumbers than I did unpacking Proust. Today many of the craftsmen on my crew don’t even speak English. I wish I had studied Spanish at Yale. (My contractor translates for me.) I treasure those four years where I had the luxury of liberal arts learning. Understanding the rules around GFCIs could come later!
Beth Rosenthal [BK]

Without Yale, neither experience would have come my way.

Yale’s impact on my career (as a law professor) was indirect but profound. Yale gave me—the product of a mediocre public high school in Augusta, Maine—a strong education, on which I have drawn ever since. My experience at the Yale Daily News has also benefited me professionally. In addition to teaching me to write on deadline, it instilled life-lessons about how to work cooperatively with highly able colleagues such as Brad Graham. Embarrassing to say, I also benefited from the cachet of the Yale name in some of the steps that took me to law school and then into law teaching. (An earlier experience made clear that affiliation with Yale does not always turn heads. During spring break of freshman year, while back in Maine, I encountered the advisor to a youth group to which I had once belonged. When he asked where I had been, I replied that I was a freshman at Yale. “Yale,” he said. “Can’t say I ever heard of it. I thought you were at Harvard or someplace like that.”) Not by coincidence, the offer to interview for my first post-Yale job, as press secretary to a congressman, came via a phone call to the Yale Daily News. Later, when I applied for a fellowship to study at Oxford, courses taken with illustrious Yale professors opened ingratiating avenues of conversation with my interviewers. The resulting opportunities helped determine my career path. The work in Washington heightened my interest in law school. My study in England encouraged me to consider teaching and scholarship as a vocation. Without Yale, neither experience would have come my way. To inject a note of non-nostalgic candor into this reflection, I have never, without irony, described my undergraduate years at Yale as “the shortest, gladdest” of my life. I worked too hard and sometimes felt lonely even among a friendly crowd. Nonetheless, I have wonderful memories in addition to enormous gratitude. Yale helped launch me toward a more rewarding professional (and personal) life than I would have dared to hope for when I first arrived in New Haven.
Dick Fallon [TC]

Dick Fallon and I shared the same junior history seminar on the American Progressive Era taught by R. Hal Williams. Even though I had other courses where I wrote term papers, and also wrote my senior paper with John Blum, it was Williams’ course that taught me how to write and how to collaborate with others in trying to arrive at the best product. I became a lawyer and gravitated to federal criminal defense. I never much liked the attitude of most civil lawyers, and my wife was an ob/gyn that required me to have the flexibility to rear a family and avoid those firms that wanted all those billable hours. My writing skills learned at Yale have taken me far. I have orally argued over 30 cases before the United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals with often good results. About five years ago, I won a case at the Tenth Circuit, United States v. Haymond, that the government appealed to the United States Supreme Court. I relied on my Yale contacts, specifically a fellow who had taken Williams’ junior seminar the year before, and lined up the resources and people necessary to argue successfully before the big Court. My Yale friend had a partner at his Washington law firm that had argued 25 cases and this fellow helped me arrange moot courts at many of the major law schools, including one at Yale. One condition of this assistance was that I had to write my own briefs. But the process was just like being in Hal Williams’ seminar, where Dick and others had reviewed my junior paper and made suggestions to make it even better. My case was the last criminal case decided in 2019, and my client won the case in a squeaker by a 5-4 decision. Now when I argue cases in the Tenth Circuit, I always get a very nice reception. My Yale education, and, in particular, Hal Williams’ seminar, made this all possible.
Bill Lunn [JE]

Before starting college my older brother told me the purpose of college and education in general is to learn how to read and write and think. And learning for its own sake is a good thing. Studying history at Yale, medical school at University of Rochester, and Urology residency in Ann Arbor all did this for me. I remember about 1990, after seven years in practice, doing a rough calculation that about 70 percent of my day was spent doing things no one had ever taught me how to do. Being a Yale graduate has had almost no impact on my life since then—almost no one knows or cares where I went to college; many never heard of Yale—but my education there has been very important
John Heller [SM]

At the time we went to Yale, I felt it was very much a place that encouraged debate, independent thought and intellectual risk taking. This was, of course, far less true in my first two years than my last simply because of the larger number of seminars and smaller class sizes available to us. For me, it was also true that I had found the perfect interdisciplinary major (actually, I didn’t find it, Rich Feinstein found it for me). This ability to express oneself in classes at Yale was a more intense and in-depth version of the excellent high school education I received. Yale taught me to articulate a love of learning. And I still say that if one doesn’t understand why Tom and Daisy were careless people, one can’t be in my business. I have also been heard to say that the string from Natty Bumpo to Ahab to Thomas Sutpen to Gatsby defines the dark underbelly of the American dream. All this was great. What was not so great was discovering, after Yale, how little the world I was entering encouraged risk taking of any sort. Instead I learned, sadly, that all institutions exist to perpetuate themselves rather than for the good of their constituents (other than shareholders). Thus I have spent my career in search of intellectual risk and my place in a world of ideas while trying to earn a living. It is my own Puritan dilemma, and I am eternally grateful to Yale for that gift. Other paths of acquiescence might have made me much wealthier and propelled me the top of the corporate ladder. Instead, I have led a life of choice, optimism, and perseverance to where, at 71, I cannot imagine having done it any differently. Dick Diver is well alive and happy and is not overawed by the Baby Warrens of this world.
Alec Haverstick [SY]

Fostered Curiosity, Confidence, Receptivity

For many years after graduating Yale, I was disappointed, believing that I didn’t get more out of my time there. The transformation I expected a Yale degree would confer (whatever that would be!) just didn’t happen. Instead, the graduate education I received at the University of Michigan, where I trained to be a clinical psychologist, appeared much more critical in influencing my career. While it is common to have the relevance of one’s professional training take precedence over undergraduate education, this still left me feeling I missed out on something big which was hard to articulate. This began to change about a year ago when I was dealing with my feelings about retiring from my private practice of over 35 years. I certainly revisited my memories of being in graduate school and the supervision, modeling, and eventual affirmation I received as a psychologist. More to my surprise was remembering the delight I felt at Yale exploring different subjects without being constrained to determine my major too soon. I entered Yale as an English major but over my years there gravitated to Philosophy and then Philosophy-Psychology before committing to Psychology. I don’t believe I had as much freedom to explore all my interests before or after Yale. High school was mostly too regimented and grad school too focused on particular skills that needed to be mastered. There was diversification not only in the large range of subject matter, but in a single discipline there were opportunities for different vantage points. In addition to lectures, I had the chance to take a semester tutorial on existential psychotherapy, understand Freud in his setting during a seminar led by the renown cultural historian Peter Gay, and participate in a research project examining the fantasy life and imaginative play of young children. Diversification in multiple forms increased my awareness of different viewpoints and the variability among those of different religions, ethnicities, geographic regions, etc. This of course not only helped me better understand others in general, but also laid the groundwork for my becoming more sensitive to and tuning in to differences I would encounter in my later work with clients and colleagues. Only much later did I realize how my earlier encounter with diversification at Yale would serve the useful purpose of my not being so ideologically driven to espouse a single way of viewing the world. It is well established in clinical psychology that the most effective clinicians are those who can flexibly modify their theories to fit their clients rather than the other way around, enabling a positive therapeutic bond between them that promotes change. I never thought that my choice of clinical psychology would be influenced by a Yale education which resonated with the endless possibilities of therapies fostered by the uniqueness of humans. When I think of Yale today, I no longer feel the bitterness of a squandered opportunity to learn and grow. Rather, I feel sad about what has been lost these past 50 years when many students now enter Yale with a very set agenda of what to major in, what courses to take, and a precise picture of what they will be doing later. It’s not a bad thing to plan one’s future. But it cannot be a good thing to have one’s quest for a specific career prematurely narrow the breadth and depth of one’s college education. That opportunity only comes around once.
Irv Leon [TC]

Under the dome at The Saint: Star machine, lighting rig, and mirror ball; from C.S. Piel

Ironically, the skewed gender ratio at Yale—often a source of distress at the time [to fail at ANY endeavor would impede the future of women at Yale, now and forever]—ended up being an advantage: Being comfortable in a room full of mostly men allowed me to access resources in the Gay community—such as bars, clubs, and the business guild—to fundraise for and put together Pride events and queer theater productions in the late ’70s/early ’80s. These, in turn, eventually steered me into staging special events and dance parties at nightclubs. (I knew, when working at The Saint—with its domed dance floor that featured a planetarium star machine and over 1500 lights [see photo]—that I would never have a more wonderful toy to play with!) All these strands came together when I became the Community Liaison at the American Foundation for AIDS Research: I got to create dance parties that raised funds for its Treatment Directory while helping to build community and elevate T-cells. Through all of this—and despite the loss of many. many friends—I found my Chosen Family. And when I finally admitted I was getting too rickety to climb ladders and hang decor, it was conversations with folks who had stopped by my office to discuss things that were troubling them that led me to my last incarnation as a mental health counselor. So although surely not a direct connection, my “Yale experience” ultimately permitted me to trust the river that took me.
C S Piel [MC]

Entering Yale I had the vague notion that pre-med was an appropriate path, but my high school preparation was weak and a bursary job and lightweight crew did not leave much time to study. I didn’t have an alternate plan but I sampled many courses at the Yale smorgasbord and learned to approach problems from many angles. This sampling expanded my intellectual curiosity and put me in the position of knowing a little about a lot of things. At Yale one is surrounded by people who are not shy about calling out BS when they see it. Being able to catch the scent of BS a mile away has proven to be pretty useful. The only coursework directly relevant to my banking career was a semester of economics. Of course, other subjects indirectly helped because they forced one to separate the wheat from the chaff. Banking required strong understanding of credit analysis and the ability to structure and negotiate complex credit agreements. There was no course that would have prepared for that. I was already quite familiar with being unprepared and had developed a high level of confidence that I could get through pretty much anything by virtue of surviving Yale. My Yale peers were a much more critical audience than any I have subsequently encountered.
Dan Rouse [CC]

The community of Yale College was more the central value of my years there. I still do believe that this is the heart and soul of liberal education …

At Yale I learned a tremendous amount of philosophy and history because of the massive resources she puts at the disposal of her scholars. I saw scholars at work, and I saw them in other circumstances as well. But I cannot say that this prepared me for my “career,” because my career has been so very odd. What did most shape me for the academic and academic-adjacent work that has filled my last 50 years was that I learned at Yale, from Wright 322 to Saybrook 942, for the first time that I could live in community that I enjoyed and that appreciated me—-however imperfect I was (and am) and however imperfectly I did (and do) what was (and is) my hope and ambition to do. In this sense the community of Yale College was more the central value of my years there. I still do believe that this is the heart and soul of liberal education even in the classroom. I try to activate this among my students today in a very different type of university.
Bennett Gilbert [SY]

My experiences playing with interesting questions in labs opened my eyes to the astonishing fact that science could be interesting. Who knew? Being able to devise my own studies was amazing. I was coached and educated but not constrained. I had brilliant and interesting mentors Culturally, but equally importantly, the majority male environment trained me to engage in against playful/serious gamesmanship. I never suffered hurt feelings or surprise at all-out competition. Weirdly, as a serious introvert it helped me to stand out because I was a rarity. I don’t think I could have stood up for myself among women. I HAD to, among men. Finally, when I got into administration and thus fundraising, the Yale name occasionally established (mostly with wealthy donors) that I was the “right kind.” As a veterinarian this wasn’t otherwise obvious!
Joan Hendricks Garvan [CC]

After two decades on Wall Street, I set my sights on teaching math. I got my masters at 45 and taught most grades K-to-12, but mostly grades 8-to-12, mostly in the Boston area. What grabbed me was teaching math using critical thinking and inquiry. No more solely algorithms, like “invert and multiply.” I always brought into class references and examples from the “real” world, whether from newspapers, art museums, sports or everything else. This was how I saw math. My students would ask me how I knew that, and I thought: It is because I went to Yale and had a solid liberal arts education. We learned the math and passed the tests, but we also learned about the world. The more far-flung, the better. Recording contra-dancing using linear programming. But also learning about climate change, social justice, and more. No topic was out of bounds given our Yale background.
Sharon Hessney [ES]

I entered Yale thinking I would major in international relations, simply because I had a facility for languages, although I knew nothing much about any country, including my own, or what “international relations” actually meant. Then as a freshman, I had the good fortune to be accepted into the introductory course of the brand-new Literature major at a time when Yale’s own literary theorists—J. Hillis Miller, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartmann, among others—were leading the field. Another advantage of the Lit Major was that most of the courses were seminars, and we could also attend graduate seminars, so I had the benefit of learning from brilliant classmates while gaining experience in collaborative intellectual activity. I then took a little side trip to medical school, but I eventually ended up in a literary theory graduate program thanks to that Yale training—and the Yale name, which no doubt helped me get my first position. Because literary theory is a capacious field, involving not only the study of literature but also psychology, philosophy, anthropology, art history, linguistics, and sociology, virtually all the courses I took at Yale (including the science courses) had some bearing on my work. Our professors enjoyed their work and so gave me good models for how to follow my own scholarly interests. My classmates taught me—a shy person at the time—the satisfactions of sharing ideas. Yale made me more curious, more confident about exploring new ideas, more able to see connections. I learned other things at Yale that are important to me, but thanks to the intellectual experience there, I have had a productive and fulfilling professional life.

Opened Doors, Led to Connections

I was a Russian Studies major at Yale. My first job after graduation entailed working on the Eastern European desk in the International Department of Bankers Trust Company. Yale opened that door for me, and I went on to have many different roles within the company and in my life in general. Other than the above, I’m not sure that Yale played much of a role in the rest of my out-of-the-ordinary life path. It has always been nice to hear people say, “You went to YALE? Wow!!” but that fact usually comes up only after I have known someone or have been working with them for quite a while. I have always tried to avoid being pigeon-holed, and a Yale credential can lead to that whether we like it or not.
Singie Shepley-Gamble [BK]

Having “Yale” on my resume helped facilitate some career zig zags where my qualifications and/or experience were not obviously relevant. My friends, faculty, and classmates exposed me to different ways of seeing and articulating events and issues.
Jim Pavle [BK]

As I have lived in England since end-September 1974, a major in American Studies has been of little use in my professional or personal life. However, through an advertisement at the Yale careers office, I worked on the floor of the American Stock Exchange as a specialist clerk the summers of 1971 and 1972. The senior partner of M. L. Weiss & Co. was Judd Kaplan, class of ‘54, I think. The work was challenging but fun. On relatively quiet days I was given a lunch break of 30 minutes, handed the Wall Street Journal, and told to sit in Trinity Churchyard to read the paper and commune with the spirit of Alexander Hamilton. Those 22 weeks resulted in my near obsessional interest in financial markets, which has persisted even into retirement from a career as an equity fund manager. Another Yale contact arranged for a summer job working nights at law firm Skadden Arps in 1973. I manned the reception desk, proofread, and made deliveries of legal documents around Manhattan, and was well-paid for doing so. But all the lawyers working there seemed miserable. One confided to me that he saw more of his wife and children when he was serving as an officer at the U.S. Navy and away at sea six months a year. I became very uncertain about pursuing a legal career, deferred my place at Harvard Law School, and instead took the opportunity to study in England for a couple of years. After the two years were up, I jumped at the opportunity to join the investment team of the Sun Life of Canada in London. Experience gained through Yale taught me that excitement and fun are usually the better options for a happy life.
Scott McGlashan [CC]

Once I realized early on that the Yale English department (the reason Yale was my first choice) was going to be a disappointment (in the time between the New Critics and deconstruction), I was very attached to a few friends and absorbed in doing a few plays (though that, too, took a hit freshman year and disappeared from my life by 1977). The friendships lasted (despite naturally fading over time). The thing about Yale College that never lost any of its luster over decades is the marquee value of the name. Thank you so much, Yale.
Steven Kimball [MC]

Yale didn’t do much to influence my career choices (U.S. Foreign Service and the hotel business), but it greatly influenced how I did my work. The more senior I became, the greater that influence. By the time I retired my undergraduate education had left my MBA in the dust. Some of those influences came from what I thought at the time would be unlikely places (I learned more than I realized from Drama 36, for example). Some lessons I learned: • How to think independently and critically…at a level of challenge I haven’t seen since (including some time at an unmentionable university in Massachusetts). • How and why to make the effort to understand people with profoundly different backgrounds, so helpful in both diplomacy and business…thank you foreign languages and literature. • How to write intelligently and intelligibly…starting with how to think clearly…thank you History department. • The value of a network…thank you Yale. • The value of the Yale name…what a door opener! Yale as door opener also helped my wife, an Indonesian physician (thank you Foreign Service in Surabaya). She had never heard of Yale, but she let me persuade her that accepting a residency offer from Yale would be a good thing. What a difference being a “Yale trained physician” made for a small, dark, foreign, female doctor (“I thought Dr. Miller was white!” said one patient). Yale is magic as a medical credential. One thing I loved at the time but have learned to regret since is that Yale did not force me to take a lab science course. Even one semester on Science Hill would have added a missing dimension to my education. My children corrected that error for themselves. And I still have friends from Yale 50 years later. All in all, many thanks to Yale.
Gregory Miller [SM]

During my Yale years, I majored in psychology and wanted to be a clinical psychologist. So my coursework was not generally relevant for my future career in marketing. However, there was one interesting Yale connection which later influenced my career. I spent most of my corporate career at Hershey, and during my time there, Ken Wolfe became the CEO. He was a proud Yalie, who did very well at the university and was also on the football team. I was able to bond with him due to our common Yale experience, and this connection helped me secure an expatriate assignment in Germany for three years. He really wanted me in the role, which increased both my desire to do the assignment and be selected for it. This assignment changed my life in many ways, in part because it enabled me to get into international marketing, which I stayed in at Hershey and other companies for the rest of my corporate career. In addition, I have been teaching international marketing full-time at Pepperdine now for eight years (and loving it). I may very well have gotten the expatriate assignment without my connection to Ken, since I was one of the only executives at Hershey who spoke German, but you never know!
Steve Bauer [SY]

Started Me on My Career 

Yale Daily News building on York Street

Entering college, I hadn’t planned to write for the Yale Daily News. But by the time spring semester rolled around, I was looking for something non-academic to do and decided to give reporting a try. Then I got hooked, just like countless other journalists through the years who have been drawn into the trade while in college. Whether it was the thrill of breaking a story, the satisfaction of piecing together a multi-faceted article, or the adrenalin rush of meeting a deadline, there was much about being a scribe on campus that kept me enthralled. Also enticing was being in position frequently to learn new things and, at the same time, perform a public service. Then, too, there was the camaraderie of being a part of the YDN. By spring of sophomore year, after assigned the beat of covering the president’s office, which meant periodic interviews with Kingman Brewster, I was having to figure out how to elicit information from someone highly skilled at winning people over without divulging anything he didn’t want to. In later years, when interviewing others similarly able both to charm and to evade, I’d remember those instructive college encounters with Brewster. In any case, after a couple of summer internships at newspapers in Florida, and a year co- managing the YDN with Dick Fallon, I knew I wanted to try making a career of journalism. I took a summer internship with the Washington Post, where I eventually became a staff writer and stayed for 30 years. I’ve always been grateful to Yale for getting me started.
Brad Graham [DC]

My high school life centered around choir, so when I arrived at Yale, I immediately became part of the Freshman Glee Club and the Alley Cats. Soon I was centering my college life around singing, too. I joined the Yale Glee Club for next three years, served as piano accompanist my senior year, became music director of the Alley Cats as a junior, and then was chosen to direct the Whiffenpoofs as a senior. All these fabulous experiences by themselves would probably have pointed me in the direction of becoming a music teacher, but Yale had so much more going on than this in the early 1970s, and that is why my future as a choral conductor was inevitable. I took advantage of being able to sing under Bill Harwood’s leadership in the Freshman Glee Club and the Yale Bach Society, serving as his assistant conductor and accompanist on many fabulous projects. Under Bill’s leadership, I experienced the power of singing Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes and Noye’s Fludde, Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea, Orff’s Carmina Burana, and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. I found a singing role in the early music productions led by Alejandro Planchart, including Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, and Medieval and Renaissance works that he edited from manuscripts so they could be performed for the first time since their conception. My singing friends and I formed the Branford Madrigal Singers so we could nerd out on British choral standards in a basement room in the college. And Fenno Heath brought powerful choral experiences to everyone in the Glee Club during those years, especially our performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Carnegie Hall with Leopold Stokowski in April 1972 and the residency of the Harvard composer Randall Thompson in October 1971. After singing a concert of Thompson’s music I knew from high school under the composer’s direction, I walked back to my room in JE and decided that night to be a music major, a story I have told my students many times. My music professors at Yale were all outstanding, especially Allen Forte and Kerala Snyder, and following my junior year summer studying conducting at Aspen Music School, I decided on a choral conducting career. My summer teachers suggested the University of Wisconsin or Indiana University for graduate school. So how amazing then that the choral director from Wisconsin, the esteemed Robert Fountain, came to Yale as a visiting professor my senior year, allowing me to sing under his direction in Battell Chapel, audition for his masters program, and move to Madison to study with him the following year. Yale continues to be one of the world’s best places to sing, study choral music, and learn to be a choral conductor, and I am proud to support Jeffrey Douma and Yale Glee Club and all of the wonderful musicians in the Yale School of Sacred Music.
Brian Gorelick [JE]

The Theatre & Music I was involved in at Yale led to the Performing Arts, my first career. It wasn’t lucrative, but it was rewarding. The primary joy was the people I was privileged to meet or work with over the years. Early gigs around New Haven: Sound & Lighting Technician for the Rick Okie’s band “Joyride”; PR Director & Box Office Manager for Chestnut Hill Concerts, a chamber music series; a small classical ballet company that performed at schools and community centers. I was then accepted to the Theatre Administration Program at the Drama School, and Theatre became my primary focus. The training was various promo, financial, and production roles at the School and the Yale Rep. Summer gigs between academic years included: The Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference in Waterford CT; The Peterborough Players in Peterborough NH. I (with my eventual wife Linda) then moved to Portland, OR, to help found (with two Yale Drama colleagues) Portland’s first fully professional Actor’s Equity theatre company. We performed in residence at Lewis and Clark College during the summers. In the winter after the second season in Portland, I was accepted into the Arts Management Fellows Program at the National Endowment for the Arts. It was supposed to be a three-month Fellowship, but I ended up staying at the NEA for three years. I started in the International Office, was then asked to stay on to manage the Fellowship Program, and was then asked to join the staff in the Theatre Program. After the NEA, I became Assistant Professor of Theatre Management at the University of Miami. I left after three years due to the chairman, who was a narcissistic, back-stabbing son-of-a-bitch, one of the most evil human beings I have ever met. I then left the Performing Arts and got an MBA in Finance from Wharton. Among the people I have been privileged to meet or work with: actors Mark-Linn Baker, Tony Shalhoub, David Alan Grier, Estelle Parsons, Michael Gross, Alan Rosenberg, Fred Applegate, Mary McDonnell, Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn, and Jeffrey DeMunn; playwrights Lewis Black, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Ted Tally, Wendy Wasserstein, and Athol Fugard; and directors Dennie Gordon, Andrei Serban, Ron Daniels, and Lloyd Richards.
Colly Burgwin [SY]

I only figured out gradually that my natural wheelhouse would be journalism because it is one of the few professions that encourages an eclectic mindset and dangerous curiosity. And Yale gave me that.

I was absolutely dedicated to learning everything I could about Asia and took course after course that informed my perspective but were difficult to put in a disciplinary framework. Finally, that became a history major, but it was the courses on the side that in some ways did more to shape my subsequent career as an Asia expert and journalist. Those side attractions included comparative literature, anthropology, and history of art and architecture, including Vincent Scully’s famous whacking the screen with his pointer and sending us out to look at buildings in New Haven with new eyes. I only figured out gradually that my natural wheelhouse would be journalism because it is one of the few professions that encourages an eclectic mindset and dangerous curiosity. And Yale gave me that, while also allowing me to become a specialist within my chosen area of Asian culture, politics, economics, and history. Another way of expressing this is that I had a hard time making up my mind! And I still do, since I am drawn by curiosity in so many different directions.
Edie Terry [PC]

Yale did make a difference in my career, at least indirectly. Even before Yale, writing interested me, and I was intrigued by journalism. During freshman year, I started to try out for the Yale Daily News. I wrote a few stories but found that I was too nervous about my schoolwork, and too timid in general, to continue. So I let it drop. It was only after graduation, when I got a job at the Burlington Free Press in Vermont—first on the copy desk, then in reporting—that I began to lose my timidity. Little by little, I discovered that it could be fun, stimulating, and intellectually rewarding to ask questions for a living and wrestle the results into articles that informed, that explained complex issues in a coherent and accessible way—and that, ideally, “sang.” That first job owes a lot to Yale. Despite my meager experience, and the skepticism of the hard-boiled managing editor who saw the weaknesses in my Yale Daily News clips, the editor-in-chief at the Free Press was impressed by Yale’s prestige. In that sense, Yale helped open the door to a career in professional writing and editing. I’ll add that the liberal-arts ethos of Yale encouraged me to be a “generalist.” During my career in newspapers, magazines, technical writing, and institutional writing for colleges, I’ve done stories about science and technology, agriculture, education, politics, culture, and the arts. At the same time, my literary studies at Yale—and my love for fiction and what’s now called “creative nonfiction”—gave me a taste for feature writing and essay writing. Finally, Yale’s academic environment made me comfortable in the world of higher education, where I spent a good many years after leaving newspapers and magazines.
Dan Laskin [ES]

I majored in linguistics at Yale and became a professor of linguistics, so clearly there’s a connection between my Yale experience and my career. But Yale’s influence was actually somewhat indirect. I probably would not have gone graduate school in linguistics had I not applied to the Yale in China program senior year. At a reception for Yale in China applicants, I met the director of the Yale summer language program. He was looking for an English-as-a-second-language (ESL) teacher. I knew nothing about how people learn languages (language acquisition wasn’t one of the Linguistics Department’s specialties) and had zero teaching experience, but the fact that I was a linguistics major apparently qualified me for the job, and I didn’t argue. What followed was one of the best summers of my life, living for the first time in an apartment with my best Yale friend, Singie Shepley, and teaching a group of highly motivated, well-educated adults from all over the world. I decided to become an ESL teacher, and after a couple of detours (Yale in China not being one of them), I wound up at the University of Michigan in an MA program in TESL (the teaching of ESL). Early on in that program I discovered a branch of linguistics, discourse analysis, that spoke to my interest in language in a way none of the courses I’d taken at Yale had, and a professor I wanted to learn more from. So I stayed, got my Ph.D., and taught and studied and wrote about language for 37 years. I can’t imagine a career better suited to my interests and skills, and I’m grateful for Yale’s part in making it happen.
Barbara Johnstone [BK]

I entered Yale without a clue about what I wanted to do post-college and figured those four years would help me figure things out. I was mesmerized by the psychology courses I took, especially child development and education, but a stint student teaching fourth graders told me I wasn’t suited to the classroom, and I didn’t know about options outside of research. Ultimately, it was the extracurriculars of high school and Yale that carried sway and led me to consider ministry. Ordination of women in my denomination was only allowed in 1970, and I had no models, but Divinity students and guest preachers at Battell made me wonder if that were my path. The rest is herstory.
Ann Larson [BR]

I emerged from Yale with a firm belief that an ability to write well is important in any profession — even highly technical or scientific ones.

As I said in my answer to an earlier question, I arrived at Yale planning to study physics, but after one semester was “redirected” into computer science, and eventually graduated with a degree in experimental psychology. In grad school at Stanford, I continued in experimental psychology and computer science. I then made a career out of blending those two fields to help make computer technology more accessible to non-technically-trained people. In addition to altering my career direction, Yale helped me build my writing skills and my appreciation for good writing. I emerged from Yale with a firm belief that an ability to write well is important in any profession—even highly technical or scientific ones. In my latest role as a professor of computer science, I demanded that my students not only learn to be computer-literate, but also literate in the normal sense of the word. Finally, being a Yale grad probably opened job opportunities for me that I might not have otherwise had.
Jeff Johnson [CC]

My education at Yale made a huge difference in my career as a French and Latin teacher in high schools. And the course that I took in archeology was a big help when I was asked to teach Ancient History as well! My diploma helped me get my first job, as well as subsequent positions. I loved the language courses at Yale! I am very grateful.
Ruth Anne Martz [JE]

Junior year, I took a seminar on modern journalism taught by the acclaimed writer J. Anthoy Lukas. In one session, he spoke of his fascination with disaster reporting, and how these stories often fell into certain patterns: hope and heroes, horror and inspiration, science and mystery. After every tornado, fire, or hurricane, he said, you’ll find in the coverage an anecdote about the untouched Bible pulled from the rubble of a church. I had no idea then at Yale that I would spend much of my life as a reporter. In retrospect, that class might have been a turning point. Regardless, at the San Francisco Chronicle, I covered for years the slow-motion catastrophe of HIV, the emergence of successful drug treatments, and the struggle to bring those treatments to the developing world. Conventional disasters were not a part of my beat, but in early 2005, I found myself witnessing the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka. Among those I interviewed, one family stood out, reminding me of Lukas’s seminar. On a beautiful Sunday morning, without warning, the sea rose up and exploded into the beachside fishing village of Tagelle. It swept through homes under coconut palms, killing friends, neighbors, tourists, and kin. The current ripped Kumar Eadivira’s three-year-old daughter, Umauange, from his arms. All three of his young children perished. Virtually all the family’s possessions were swept out of their modest home. As my photographer and I stood in the remains of their kitchen, Kumar and his wife insisted on pouring us two glasses of coconut milk. He carried a stained, framed photo of Umaunge a neighbor had fished out of the mud outside. He showed us all that was left behind on the floor of his home. Undamaged, it was a small white clay Buddha.
Sabin Russell [DC]

After Yale, I spent 30 years working for IBM, a major computer and software company. I retired in 2004, and since then, work fulltime as a domestic engineer for my wife. I considered writing and self-publishing a book or two. But I found stock market investing to be more rewarding—which Sue refers to as “my hobby.” Two things about my Yale experience that made a big difference for me were: calculus and “being the sidekick.” Both were important awakenings. I always loved math and the endorphins of problem solving. I had taken a semester of calculus in high school and a quarter of calculus at University of Illinois—Circle. Freshman year, Yale placed me into third semester calculus—and I wound up dropping the course, as I was lost. It was my very first confrontation with any academic course that I could not master. Somehow the discontinuity between my prior calculus courses and Yale left me baffled. Also, I found Yale’s math instructor almost incomprehensible as I could not understand his English pronunciations. I found I could do well in Yale’s computer science classes—segued and stuck with CS—and my career with IBM followed. As I got to know Yale and experience my very smart fellow (and fellow-ette) Yale classmates, I soon learned that whilst I had grown up to think that I was a smart guy, I had definitely overestimated my academic prowess. Put another way: “non summa cum laude.” Realizing that there was always going to be someone who was brighter, more talented, more educated, and more assertive was extremely important. I listened more, took on any task assigned, reserved expressing commentary, deferred to other’s leadership, and found comfort in mastering details. Assuming a thoughtful staff, assistant, sounding board, side kick, consulting, or supporting actor role was a life/work niche for creating value (and recognition). It worked for me, and while I did not attain top IBM Executive levels, I did a variety of manager gigs and had fascinating experiences with colleagues in software development and at IBM Research. Where would Nero Wolfe be without Archie? Or the Green Hornet without Kato? Or Don Quixote without Sancho Panza?
Thomas Corbi [TC]

Academically, my Yale Experience affected my life, my ability to think critically, to express myself on paper, to have valuable perspective on life and human history and to allow me grow in a safe, controlled environment at that age. Career-wise, it was my work on the Yale Daily News (and Magazine) that launched me into the world of journalism and television news. That led eventually into documentary, unscripted and then to features. No Yale alums, or secret society alums, were part of that, and I never felt like I lost my sense of being an outsider in a significantly prep school/east coast culture coming from California. Them’s my thots comrades:)!
Richard Hall [SM]

My Yale experience made a total difference in my subsequent career by relocating me to New York City, where I have been ever since. I did not hear that Yale was admitting women until well into the fall of my senior year, when I had already completed my college visits. Once accepted, I wondered about attending a college sight unseen. Yale admissions personnel dissuaded me from visiting. Classes had been discontinued and students sent home because of protests relating to the Black Panther trial in New Haven. Unrest later continued at Yale, as near the end of our freshman year the dining hall workers went on strike for about six weeks and the delivery of heating oil was blocked by sympathetic students lying on the road. I was temporarily transferred to the junior class after my freshman year on account of my good grades and test results, but did not want to end my undergraduate experience so quickly, and took a year’s leave of absence so I could graduate with my class. Spending that year working in New York City convinced me to apply to Barnard so as to remain in New York City. When I went to Barnard for my interview, the door to the building was being blocked by students, but having spent months riding the New York City subways, I pushed my way through. At the interview’s conclusion, Barnard admissions personnel, apologizing to me that students were occupying the building on account of bombing in Cambodia, led me out of the building through an interior passage so I would not be observed. The theme of conflict and its lawful resolution, as well as a desire to assist not-for-profit organizations, increased my interest in the legal profession. I practiced for several decades in the area of pensions, employee benefits, and fiduciary responsibility, and currently serve on a number of not-for-profit boards and committees. One of the most frequent questions I have been asked at job interviews is why I transferred from Yale to Barnard.
Sharon Vaino [SM]

Didn’t Make Much of a Difference

[Did my Yale experience make a difference in my subsequent career?] Not really. We graduated in a recession, and I was fairly unfocused on the options and processes of the real world. I worked in a series of jobs that I was overqualified for. Recognizing the dead end, I went to Amos Tuck for an MBA. That was the real start of my career.
Clark Johnson [MC]