Monday, August 24, 2020

Welcoming the Class of 2023

Dean Heather Gerken welcomed the newest class of students to Yale Law School during convocation remarks delivered online on August 21, 2020.

The new class joins the Law School during a year of unprecedented circumstances, as the School starts the semester under a hybrid model of teaching and learning with a mix of classes online and in-person. The administration made significant changes to accommodate this model in order to maintain an intimate educational environment while protecting students, faculty, and staff during the pandemic.

“[We] have spent the last few months thinking about how…in short, how we can keep Yale, Yale,” Gerken said. “Our faculty and staff moved mountains to ensure we could invite our students back to campus because they love this community so much.”

The 209 members of the Class of 2023 comprise an extraordinary and diverse group of individuals from around the world. Of the incoming students, 52 percent are students of color and roughly half are women. A quarter of the members of the entering class are the first in their families to attend graduate or professional school, and 11 percent are the first in their families to graduate from college. One in 20 students is a veteran. They come from 7 different countries, 34 different states, and 82 different undergraduate institutions. Included among this talented group of students are an Apache helicopter pilot, former teachers and journalists, a Federal Reserve economist, and a wilderness EMT.

The incoming class also includes 11 transfer students, five L.L.M students, one Master of Law student, and one Ph.D. student.

In her speech to the class, Gerken acknowledged that they begin their law school careers amidst extraordinary stresses and upheaval — an ongoing pandemic that threatens everyone but has been especially devastating for people of color, a national reckoning over the country’s legacy of racial oppression, and a highly contentious upcoming Presidential election.

In dealing with these challenges, Gerken stressed how critical it is for the community to band together during difficult and unpredictable times. 

“This semester, taking care of each other takes on heightened importance,” she said, even if it means staying away from each other to follow social distancing rules, and adopting new social behaviors to protect each other. “Each and every individual in this community has a responsibility to their peers, to our staff, to our faculty, and to the New Haven community to internalize these new norms,” she said.

Gerken encouraged the class to use their time in law school to experiment, try new things, and not worry about finding the right answer right away, especially during times of uncertainty.

“Embracing uncertainty means following your own compass, setting your own pace, and measuring success by your own satisfaction,” she said. “And if this year has taught us anything, it is to embrace uncertainty full on. Run down paths you’ve never tried before, just to see what they are like. And if you find a run you especially like, return to it over and over again, just because it sustains you.”

In closing, Gerken asked students to use this unique moment as a time to learn more about themselves, reflect, and grow. 

“It is precisely in these moments of profound uncertainty that we face the greatest tests of our character,” Gerken told the students. “My hope is that during your time at YLS, you will learn how to respond to challenges you could never have foreseen; how to return to your values; and how to change your mind. Because it is only by accepting that we don’t have all the answers that we can truly learn.”