The following is the text of the Baccalaureate Address by President Peter Salovey to the Yale College Class of 2015 and their families and guest gathered in Woolsey Hall.
Colleagues, friends, families, graduating seniors: it is such a pleasure for me to greet you today and offer a few words on everyone’s favorite weekend of the year.
I have participated in the baccalaureate service as a member of the faculty, as a dean, and as provost. But this is only my second time around as Yale’s president. I have noted over the years a charming Yale tradition. And I would like to honor it today:
Might I ask all of the families and friends here today to rise and recognize the outstanding — and graduating — members of the Class of 2015?
And now, might I ask the Class of 2015 to consider all those who have supported your arrival at this milestone, and to please rise and recognize them?
The President urged the audience to applaud the graduating seniors, and asked the seniors to show their gratitude by applauding those who supported them through the years. (Photo by Michael Marsland)
I delight in this custom, and last year even focused my baccalaureate remarks on the topic of gratitude. This year, however, I want to try something different with you. Not because gratitude is unimportant on a day like today — far from it! And not because I am personally some kind of ingrate! But a few weeks ago, I conducted a little thought experiment: If a graduating senior asked me to capture the purpose of life after graduating from Yale in just a few words, what would I say? What would that purpose be? Could I articulate your life’s mission as you leave Yale — on Commencement weekend, no less — while “standing on one foot”?
The phrase “standing on one foot,” as some of you know, derives from a story about Hillel, the first-century B.C.E. rabbi and scholar. He was asked to summarize the meaning of the entire Torah (the Old Testament) while standing on one foot. His reply: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. … That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this — go and study it!”
Well, in trying to address the question — what is the purpose of life for a Yale graduate? — I am a bit concerned that I will be vividly defining hubris while standing on one foot! After all, what does a university president know about such matters that you have not already figured out for yourselves?
There are many perfectly fine answers to the question about your commitments after Yale. Your purpose in life might be to find work that is meaningful to you: a wonderful goal. Your purpose in life might be to find someone to love, nurture a family, and create the next generation: also wonderful goals. Your purpose in life might be a kind of long-term loyalty to those who have supported, inspired, and shaped you by making very, very certain that — as the song goes — “time and change shall not avail to break the friendships formed at Yale.” This is also a laudable desire. Your purpose in life might be to accumulate whatever amount of wealth would make you feel comfortable and secure, and — despite what you might suspect — I am not going to argue with that goal either.
What I am going to suggest to you today, however, is that your purpose in life as a graduate from Yale is simply this: to improve the world. In the Jewish tradition this is called Tikkun Olam, literally to repair the world.
In addition to our monthly Newsletter, we are also bringing you a monthly round-up of our favorite programs from our partners and from across the web. The opportunities below are separated by long term (6+ months), short term (6 months or less) and ongoing service, social good, and travel opportunities.
Be sure to check back monthly for updates and new finds!
Commit…To Service! (Long-Term Programs)
You Want To Go To There. (Short-Term and Travel Opportunities)
Be Social. Do Good. (Social Good Jobs, Events and Campaigns)
File this under LOVE! Most women (and many men too) are all too familiar with the words “I hate my body.” From magazines, to TV commercials to our own inner monologues, there are a million narratives out there telling us – both subtly and explicitly – to do exactly that.
One woman from Australia, Taryn Brumfitt, is out to change the conversation about body image. Her Body Image Movement is, “on a quest to redefine and rewrite the ideals of beauty” and “harness and facilitate positive body image activism.” Brumfitt and her team want to reach as many women as possible and help them accept, embrace, and celebrate exactly who they are.
Check out the video below to learn more about Brumfitt’s story, and hear more about the movement.
Next Monday, May 25, Americans across the country will celebrate Memorial Day – a day devoted to remembering the men and women who died while serving our country in the armed forces.
Some folks observe the special day with parades, by visiting war monuments, or by attending events that feature veterans, and we think that’s awesome. But there’s another way to honor those who served our country – with service! This Memorial Day, express your gratitude to those who gave to their country by giving back. Whether you volunteer on the day of, or sign up for a longer-term volunteer project down the line, service is an awesome way to say thank you. Here are some great service opportunity databanks to get you started.
Serve.gov Find volunteer opps across the country with this nationally-sanctioned service database.
Volunteer Match Make a difference by linking up with a service opportunity that taps into your passions.
NYC Service NYC residents can tap into volunteer projects that make their city stronger through this database.
Network for Good Search by opportunity or by organization name to find a volunteer project you can sink your teeth into.
Let us know how you celebrate Memorial Day in the comments below or by tweeting us at @repairtheworld.
Shavuot is coming! This Saturday marks the beginning of the 2-day holiday that celebrates both the wheat harvest and God sharing the Torah with the Jewish people. Both kinda biggies, dontcha think?
Many folks celebrate Shavuot by eating cheesecake and other delicious dairy foods and spending alllll night (yes, literally) studying Jewish texts. Reading and talking about Jewish texts is an awesome way to commemorate such a momentous day. But we think there’s lots of room on Shavuot for service too – it is a long night, after all. This year, add some do gooding to your Shavuot study-a-thon. Here’s how:
Set up a food donation bin Ask attendees of your study-a-thon to bring non-perishables with them, then donate them after the holiday is over.
Incorporate social justice texts Devote a portion of your evening to studying texts or talking about issues related to the intersection of Jewish life and social justice. You can find a bunch of great ones over at AJWS’ On 1 Foot database.
Invite a guest speaker Ask a representative from a local non-profit you love to come talk about their organization’s work and how people can get involved. It will provide a worthy and inspiring break from all that text-learning.
Make a “lit” table No doubt you’ve got friends and guests coming who work or volunteer with awesome orgs. Set up a table where everyone can drop fliers, cards, and other info so people can learn about one another and hook up to great causes.
Schedule a cheek swab Organize a bone marrow swab at your study-a-thon. You might just help someone save a life! Check out Gift of Life for more info.
Do you have other ideas for how to add do-gooding to Shavuot? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld. Learn more about Shavuot and its traditions here.
Every year around this time, we at Repair the World try to bring you some of the best and brightest commencement speeches from around the country. This year, we are just bringing you one: First Lady Michelle Obama’s recent address at Tuskegee University in Alabama.
The First Lady is, naturally, a popular commencement speaker, and we’ve included her words in past years’ roundups. But this year she brought things to a different level by sharing her own story, talking candidly about gender and race, and sharing her thoughts about making one’s way through a world filled with adversity without succumbing to “feelings of despair and anger.” It takes no small amount of bravery to open up in front of a crowd of young graduates (and, thanks to YouTube, the world) or to tackle topics these personal and powerful.
Not surprisingly, a commencement as provocative as Ms. Obama’s has already begun to make waves in the press. Because in the end, all successful speeches do. They must. That is how the world gets shaken up and how important conversations get started. Check out The First Lady’s inspiring 2015 address below, and let us know what you think at @repairtheworld!
Each year, J-Serve: The International Day of Jewish Youth Service mobilizes more than ten thousand Jewish teens worldwide around meaningful service programs. This year, we checked in with Michelle Biesman, a 16-year old junior at Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee to find out how she celebrated J-Serve. Check out what she had to say.
What did your J-Serve group do this year?
For J-Serve 2015 we had a few different projects going on, all on the JCC campus. These included working on and re-making trails that are used by Camp Davis, the JCC camp, Akiva School, the kindergarten-6th grade community day school, making artwork and partnering with the Frist in Nashville, TN, an art museum, and helped make signs for Camp Davis. For Akiva, a very small school, the teens helped garden and refurbish it as well as hang up artwork and complete other tasks for which Akiva needed help. For the trails, most of the guys went out in the mud (it had rained the whole weekend), to help move trees, re-do the trails, and pick up trash and make the site more pleasant and accessible.
How were you involved in the planning and running of the day?
I helped brainstorm projects that we could do, especially staying on the JCC campus and refurbishing Akiva. During the day I helped check everyone in and helped ensure things were going according to plan.
What was the biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge was promoting J-Serve and getting people to sign up. With that said, we had great attendance and I think people really enjoyed it!
What was the most inspiring part for you this year?
I think the most inspiring part of J-Serve was seeing Jewish kids in Nashville from 6th-12th grade coming together to better our local Jewish community. This year we focused on betting the Nashville Jewish community rather than just the Nashville community. I think it means more for someone to help people from their same background, in this case Jews helping other Jewish people. Nashville has a small, growing Jewish community and with recent acts of antisemitism in Nashville and across America, I found it special to see so many Jewish teens coming together to better our community.