Yale Law School Welcomes Exceptional New Class of Students
Dean Heather K. Gerken welcomed Yale Law School’s newest students to campus on Aug. 23, speaking at convocation about the set of traditions they are inheriting that have sustained the academic community for nearly two centuries.
In her remarks, Gerken urged the new class to preserve the Law School’s best traditions — excellence, humanity, and ideas.
“Communities like this one don’t just spring up on their own,” she said. “They take work to preserve. While this is the beginning of your journey here, you are inheriting a set of traditions passed from generation to generation, cherished by the staff, faculty, and alumni alike. These are the traditions that have preserved this eclectic, deeply intellectual, wildly exciting, and incredibly warm community across the years. These traditions are the reason that this place is so magic.”
The law school experience should be challenging, Gerken said, and she urged the new class to push themselves to learn from each other and become exposed to a range of perspectives.
“As a member of this extraordinary place, you need to reflect deeply on what it means to be part of a scholarly community and a genuine learning environment,” said Gerken. “Academic freedom and respectful engagement are the bedrock of any academic institution. Debate, disagreement, and the ability to question even treasured beliefs are the lifeblood of our intellectual life.”
Such conversations can be difficult in increasingly polarizing times, Gerken acknowledged, but are part of being a member of not only the intellectual community, but as a future member of the legal profession.
“This experience should challenge you, and it should change you. Push yourself to learn from people with different perspectives. Engage with — embrace, even — all of your peers, not just the ones with whom you agree.”
The 201 members of the J.D. class of 2026 comprise the most diverse class in Yale Law School history, continuing an eight-year trend of increasingly diverse classes. Of the new J.D. students, 57% are students of color and more than half are women. Nearly a third are the first in their families to attend graduate or professional school. More than one in six are the first in their families to graduate from college, and 14 members of the class are veterans.
The J.D. class of 2026 also includes 33 Hurst Horizon Scholars, who will receive full-tuition scholarships for students with significant financial need. Following an expansion of the Hurst Horizon Scholarship Program in 2023, 75–80 students at the Law School — over 15% of the class — will now receive the scholarship.
In addition to incoming 1Ls, new students include 10 transfer students joining the class of 2025. Gerken also welcomed 27 LL.M. students, 16 J.S.D. students, and three M.S.L. candidates who hail from 17 different countries and six continents and include five Fulbright scholars. They are Ph.D. candidates, judges, prosecutors, reporters and professors whose interests range from intellectual property law to family law to bioethics; public and private law, and comparative and international law.
Altogether, the members of the Class of 2026 hold 71 advanced graduate degrees in subjects that range from chemical and biological engineering to theater studies.
They come to New Haven from 12 countries, 37 states, and 87 different undergraduate institutions. Collectively, they have lived in 76 countries and read and speak 40 different languages. They include an Osprey pilot, an advisor to the U.N., an intelligence analyst, a writer for The Economist, a professional speechwriter, and a deck boss from a commercial fishing boat, among other careers and experiences.
To conclude her address, Gerken spoke about the core values of lawyering and urged students to chase their own dreams and throw themselves into their own work, not someone else’s.
“Lawyers are problem-solvers. They don’t stand jeering on the sidelines; they get things done, which means they must learn how to reach agreement in communities defined in part by difference,” she said. “All of the qualities that make for great law students — empathy, generosity, kindness, and a respect for others — are the qualities that make for great lawyers, and great human beings.”
“The most important professional accomplishment you can achieve during law school is to find your own path,” she added. “This is an opportunity to find your own unique way and to build community with interesting people who will find theirs too. If you take this advice, then I promise, you will look back on this time knowing that you have made decisions that are tailored to what matters most to you.”