Saturday, 14 January 2012
Objective Proficiency p 106. Freshman Address by Yale College Dean Mary Miller. Extra Listening
Mary Miller, Dean of Yale College welcomes the Yale College Class of 2016. The Freshman Assembly took place in Woolsey Hall on August 25, 2012.
Good morning! Good morning President Levin, Provost Salovey, Secretary Goff-Crews, Chaplain Kugler, Masters, Deans, and honored guests. And welcome, women and men of the Class of 2016! Welcome to Yale University, and welcome to Yale College. I’m—we’re-- so excited to have you here. We’ve been thinking about you since April 1, when Dean Brenzel of Yale Admissions told us your names. Then we met some of you during Bulldog Days, we met a few more of you this week in orientation programs, but at last, Class of 2016, you are here. Welcome inside the walls, onto the playing fields, into the classrooms and the residential colleges—welcome. Welcome to the spaces and places you will soon call home.
And welcome to all of the families and friends who have brought you to this day. You’ve come from Gibralter and New Haven, from California and China, from Berkeley, Brookline, and Brooklyn. Thanks for having helped 1354 of the world’s most interesting and smartest young women and men find their way to today. We are going to have exceptional encounters with them over the next years—in the classroom, in the dining halls, on the intramural courts, in extracurricular activities. Let me add that we will have plenty of fun along the way.
But, 2016, back to you:
You have just walked past the Beinecke Library, and you will walk past it several times a day over the next four years. There is a map inside it that comes from the capital of New Spain, Mexico City, and you have in your lap a drawing of the left-hand side of the Mapa, as I will call it, where discs count off years, taking the observer from the Spanish invasion to 1565. Footprints orient the reader to time and descent, running top to bottom, starting with two seated lords who are depicted as if they were prehispanic Aztec rulers. But then we come to two figures who face one another. At left is the Viceroy—the Spanish king’s avatar, if you will—who arrived in New Spain in 1550, and he faces Esteban de Guzmán, an Aztec noble who had adopted a European surname, whom the Viceroy appointed to serve as local ruler during a crisis of rulership. When you take time to walk into the Beinecke to see the Mapa you’ll see that there are also fields and orchards, with the glyphic names of the men and women who came to own those fields and the crops they raised, all framed by bands of water.
As a scholar of the ancient New World, I have been studying this Mapa for years, working with a team of colleagues to unlock the Mapa’s story. It turns out that the object itself had a life, and it’s also quite a story. When you look at it, it will look seamless, as if made at one time, once and for all. Yet scientific examination by specialists in the library and museums here reveals that it was cut and remade at least three times, and at least four artists worked on it in those campaigns. Expensive and rare pigments were acquired from 800 miles away rather than use European ones. What we see in Guzman today—his prominence and role in mid 16th century—might have been created only in retrospect, in the Mapa’s final version, when his role in shaping the course of history could be seen as established. Folded and put away, the Mapa was then hidden from view for most of its history, and perhaps stored in a monastery. A bookdealer brought it to Chicago in 1893, whence it passed through a series of private hands. In 1974, a Yale freshman saw the listing of a “map” in a sales catalogue of a New York auction house, and he scraped together money from family and friends to make a bid. And then he kept it rolled up under his bed in Timothy Dwight College for a few months, while he negotiated with the Beinecke Library to purchase it from him—for an amount that paid for his remaining three years of tuition!
On the Mapa, Guzman looks beyond the Viceroy: he looks at the crown that floats over the Viceroy’s head. Do their two worlds converge? We know so little about the difficulties and challenges to survival in those years. Plagues ravaged indigenous populations, cutting them in half, time and again. The rapacious practices of the colonists to extract wealth were an assault on the environment. It would take nimble responses from indigenous peoples not to be crushed, nimble responses to swim in a changing sea whose depth and complexity they could not fathom—and ultimately, to make a record like this one. The Viceroy and Guzman lived in two different worlds in the middle of the 16th century, perhaps communicating in Latin, in which they were both educated. Guzman knew nothing of Iberia or Rome; the Viceroy’s brief was to keep order and to make the colony productive for Spain. On the Mapa, both men speak, and they spoke for different constituencies. Both lived, simultaneously, in two different worlds, yet in one physical space.
Do you? Will you?
We, too, find ourselves in parallel universes, sometimes in what seem to be different worlds. You, the Class of 2016, were born—most of you—in 1994. In the world of 1994, we waited for the arrival of the mail carrier and smooth white envelopes, not the ping of arriving email, tweets, and texts; a student’s phone was in his or her dorm room and nowhere else. Research could only be done by showing up some place, in the library or the lab or the museum. All of the capacity of that world still exists, and yet much of it is, for you, like Latin for Guzman, Aztec noble, an archaic and foreign language.
And until very recently you have all been living very intensely in your home town, among your high school friends, and over the past few days you have been in constant touch with them, texting, posting pictures on Facebook, rolling over out of sleep to look at your phone and to see that world that may still seem more real than this one. In fact, is your phone buzzing in your pocket or lap? Are your fingers are even itching for your phones right now…even as you sit here among the young women and men who will be your classmates for four years and potentially your friends for life. How do you leave the past 18 years behind and find your new world? For the Viceroy to succeed in New Spain, he had to trust his knowledge and his training from Madrid and immerse himself in his new world, trusting a man like Guzman to be his guide.
What does he see, as he looks into the future? What do YOU see, when you look into your future, our future? You arrive here with expectations, some of them your own, some of them your family’s, others from your larger community, or from the groups you believe you will affiliate with, whether a sports team or a theater group, a religious denomination or a political organization —and these expectations can overtake your ability to explore the opportunities here at Yale. But you, like Guzman, need to look beyond the obvious. You need to look into the unknown. Our goal is for you to leave the expectations of others behind: you’ve worked so hard to get here, and you’ve done so much of what others have asked of you, yet making independent choices and charting your own future here at Yale must be a first step toward becoming an independent and autonomous person. You may think of the choices you’re going to be making as largely about your courses, or your extracurricular—what we often call a co-curricular—life. But these choices also pertain to many other aspects of your life.
By and large, most of you have filled almost every waking minute with school, lessons, sport, performance, service, and other activities. And although you grumbled a bit about some of it, you measured up to all of it. And it may be easier to think that these choices now are yours, more so than academic ones. But now you will need to own the decisions behind saying yes and no: you won’t be able to do everything that calls to you. Decide carefully, consciously, and ethically; recognize the impact and responsibility you bear if you make decisions to consume alcohol and other drugs. Decide carefully, and recognize how poor decisions jeopardize the integrity of friendships and our community.
Guzman and the indigenous communities he represented commissioned native artists to paint the Mapa, to argue for their autonomy, integrity and maturity, their ability to manage their own affairs, their recognition that they deserved fairness in the assignment of land to grow maize. Even Guzman’s image tells us that he was the new, autonomous man of his century. The viceroy appears in perfect Spanish attire, but Guzman has adopted a ruffled Spanish shirt to wear under a brilliant indigenous garment, the new hybrid dress of the native elite. Riding the wave of the future, he has already changed, and the artist captures it by showing him moving into three dimensions, unlike the formal indigenous rulers who precede and succeed him.
Look again, now, at Guzman, staring off at the distant crown. And hear these words, from John Keats. He wrote these lines on a night in 1816, in response to his astonishment of discovery in reading radiant translations, previously unknown to him, of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific …
You, too, are about to look into the unknown, to swim or sail from the known world into an uncharted future. As you do so, you will discover new worlds, in history, science, technology; in works of art, in the written word, and in the sea and sky.
The Beinecke Library has brought the remarkable Mapa up to the first floor this weekend, and I invite you to walk across the quadrangle today or tomorrow to see it in person. Like many treasures at Yale, this map was here for some years before it came to my attention—and I say with confidence that you, too, can discover extraordinary and surprising things here, things that no one—quite literally, no one—knows about. Look beyond the obvious. Set your gaze on what you cannot see—yet—and start looking for new worlds.