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A populist inauguration

Yesterday in Woolsey Hall, Peter Salovey ’86PhD was inaugurated as the 23rd president of Yale. But that was only the ceremonial capstone to a week of unusually populist parties and events, fitting for a president whose signal academic accomplishment was establishing the study of emotional intelligence. Margaret Marshall ’76JD, Senior Fellow of Yale’s board of trustees, called Salovey’s “the most extensive and most inclusive inauguration in Yale’s history.” (See video of the inauguration here.)

On Monday, Salovey and his wife, Marta Moret ’84MPH, started a five-day tour of Yale’s academic departments to meet faculty and staff. On Thursday afternoon, there was an all-staff, all-faculty party—a rare event at Yale. On Saturday, Yale pulled out the stops with a daylong, campus-wide “Open House.” The kickoff event: a parade of dogs—by one estimate, about a hundred—owned by staff and faculty, held on Cross Campus and featuring Handsome Dan and the Salovey-Moret canine in the lead.

After that came a plethora of open houses and performances. The British Art Center offered tea for all, with harp accompaniment. Undergraduate residential colleges put on concerts. The med school, the planetarium, the residential colleges, the musical instrument collection, the student cultural centers, and many other venues were open for visitors. On Cross Campus, a South Indian dance group, a comedy troupe, a magician, and other student performers took turns onstage throughout the day.

That night, student parties were held on Old Campus and in the Hall of Graduate Studies courtyard—each featuring a performance by the Yale-based group called the Professors of Bluegrass, with Salovey as bassist and star attraction. The high point of the HGS party: the president of Yale University laid his bass viol down on the floor, came up to the front of the stage, and danced a bluegrass-style soft-shoe shuffle with the fiddler. The screams from the student audience could have been for the Rolling Stones.

The inauguration itself was by invitation only, making it the hottest ticket of the year on campus. Some 2,300 people attended, including 107 representatives of higher education institutions around the world and many members of the faculty, colorful in their academic gowns. The ceremony was, mostly, pure tradition; the only addition was a poem written for the occasion by Yale professor, and Obama inauguration poet, Elizabeth Alexander ’84. Salovey sat in a chair that had been owned by Abraham Pierson, the first head of Yale. Drew Faust, president of Harvard; and Tan Chorh Chuan, president of the National University of Singapore, both spoke. (Faust got several laughs, the loudest with her affirmation that an inauguration speech is not the time “to mention even in passing that our recent encounters on the football field have ended with the Old Blue feeling just that.”)

In the key moment of the inauguration, Marshall ceremonially turned over to Salovey Yale’s original 1701 charter, its presidential seal, and a set of symbolic Yale keys. She placed the collar, with its enamel reproductions of the coats of arms of each Yale school, over his shoulders, as a sign of “the responsibility that we are placing on you.” Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83, ’86JD, secretary of the university, fastened it in the back.

Salovey’s inaugural speech highlighted some themes that became familiar on campus during the Levin years: the need for two more residential colleges, for Yale to work in partnership with New Haven, and for Yale to become more global. But Salovey specifically mentioned Africa, a region where Yale has not previously had a major focus, as a locus for more scholarship and joint research projects. He also singled out the technological “teaching and learning revolution.” And he put the centrality of students first and foremost in his speech, saying, “We are a research university that proudly and unapologetically focuses on its students.”

After the inauguration ceremony, Salovey, Moret, and a host of students, faculty, staff, and New Haveners went to a block party on Hillhouse Avenue. Two bands played, people danced, children had their faces painted, and free ice cream, fried bread, and bite-sized, blue-frosted cupcakes were consumed. “So many hours, so many talents went into” the week, said Betty Jane Schiller, senior administrative assistant in the Yale College Dean’s Office, who had volunteered to help and was serving cupcakes. “I compliment the president—who brought everyone together to be part of his inauguration.”

Filed under Peter Salovey, inauguration
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