Video report by Audrey Kuchen, Fox CT
Text by Christopher Hoffman, The Hartford Courant
NEW HAVEN — Peter Salovey was inaugurated the 23rd president of Yale University Sunday in festivities that began with a tradition-laden procession through the school’s stately campus and ended with a block party featuring bluegrass music and fried dough.
With scholars from many of the world’s great universities attending, and with Yale fellows and corporation members and students watching, Salovey accepted the official symbols of his new office: the 1701 charter creating the university, the school’s seal and keys to three of its most historic and important buildings.
“With great joy, excitement and hope, I accept the leadership of this university,” Salovey told the packed audience in Woolsey Hall. “I am honored to be granted the stewardship of this venerable institution; grateful for the trust of the Yale Corporation, faculty and community; optimistic for our shared future.”
Salovey succeeds Richard C. Levin, who looked on as his successor officially took the reins of the third-oldest university in America. Levin was president for 20 years.
Salovey, 55, has been at Yale since the early 1980s, when he arrived to pursue a master’s in psychology. He later earned a doctorate and joined the Yale faculty in 1986 as a psychology professor. From 2008 to 2013, Salovey served as the university’s provost.
In his address, Salovey said it is a time of uncertainty for American colleges and universities. Some politicians, he said, have come to question the value of a college education and research. Students struggling to pay for college or facing immigration issues find themselves “in the political crossfire,” he said.
“It is a sorrow to those of us who believe so deeply in it that some in our country neither see nor accept the transformative power of a liberal education,” Salovey said. “We are living in a world that will test our university, and we must remain rooted in our principles and focused on our founding mission.”
As president, Salovey said, he will support and expand research, but added that he will also keep students and teaching at the core of Yale’s mission. In that spirit, he noted that Nobel Prize-winning Professor James E. Rothman left a press conference discussing the prize last week to teach two seminars.
“A future Nobel laureate may have been sitting in a classroom with him that very afternoon,” Salovey said. “This is Yale’s calling as a research university, exemplified every day by faculty and students in our classrooms, laboratories and studios.”
Salovey renewed his call to build two new undergraduate colleges, enabling the university to accept more undergraduates, and praised its growing internationalism. He pledged to build on Levin’s successful collaboration with New Haven.
“Our city and university are forever coupled,” he said. “Our destiny is shared.”
Salovey said that he would seek to make Yale more unified, more accessible and more deeply rooted in New Haven.
“You have bestowed on me the greatest honor that a Yale faculty member and alumnus could possibly receive: the opportunity to serve as the university’s president,” Salovey said, concluding his remarks. “I cherish this trust, and I acknowledge my need for your help to fill my years as president with … lux et veritas, light and truth (Yale’s motto).”
The inauguration began earlier in the day with a parade of representatives in full academic regalia from universities including Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard. A color guard and marching band with Yale banners hanging from its trumpets led the procession of robed academics down College Street and into Woolsey Hall.
In her welcoming remarks, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust couldn’t help but remind the audience of the two institutions’ longstanding friendly rivalry.
“I come to you from a humble place of learning who educated several of the young men who helped to found Yale,” said Faust, prompting laughs from the audience.
Faust listed the many qualities needed to be a college president.
“Few mortals could aspire to fit even remotely that description,” she said. “Peter Salovey comes unnervingly close.”
At the inaugural’s conclusion, Yale threw a block party at nearby Hillhouse Avenue featuring food vendors, salsa dancing, a giant inflatable bulldog — the university mascot — and musical groups, including a bluegrass band. Salovey, a big fan of bluegrass music, chose the band.
In one spot, revelers took turns taking their pictures next to a cutout of Salovey.
Zoey Yi, a Yale law and business school student, said she participated in the lottery for a ticket to the inauguration, but didn’t win. She nonetheless proclaimed the event “awesome.”
“It’s fun,” she said after snapping a photo next to the faux Salovey. “There’s my buddy right there.”