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Master's teas: getting up close and personal

BY ORIANNE DUTKA

Perhaps you know of Larry Flynt from watching the Milos Forman movie. Maybe as a child, you watched Martina Navratilova win some of her nine Wimbledon titles. Certainly, you are somewhat familiar with Senator John McCain's work on campaign finance reform. However, unless you're a writer for People, an Entertainment Tonight staffer, or Larry King, you probably haven't had the opportunity to meet and interact with society's most prominent figures. Through Master's teas, Yale's 12 residential colleges provide such opportunities, drawing many notable figures to regale students on a variety of topics.

As Kelly Brownell, former Master of Silliman, said of the teas, "[They] provide an excellent opportunity for students to know accomplished people as individuals." He noted that unlike the impersonal format of a large lecture or speech, "meeting people and asking what inspires them, what concerns them, or how to become involved in their field is invaluable."

The guest speakers are invited to the colleges through a range of methods, including mailed invitations and telephone calls. At times, a Master or a student has a particular connection with a guest. The speakers come from a range of backgrounds and fields, and have included writers, politicians, actors, and musicians. Some of the guests who have spoken at Master's teas in the past include Kurt Vonnegut, Sandra Day O'Connor, Oliver Stone, Henry Louis Gates, CC '73, Conan O'Brien, Midori, and the Roots. As Brownell said of the many interesting guests he and other masters have hosted, "How can one not be inspired by the talent, energy, and creativity these people represent?"

The past two years, Trum-bull College has hosted a series of Master's teas entitled "Experience and Choice." Headed by Joshua Kleinfeld, TC '01, the series was geared toward preparing students to confront the plethora of professional and personal choices that loom as graduation nears. As Kleinfeld put it, "What we needed—experience—was precisely what we lacked, and I thought advice from people who had led interesting, diverse, and reflective lives might help." Guests included Charles Hill, who has held several State Department and United Nations posts and is currently a visiting lecturer in political science; Glenda Gilmore, who, after a successful business career, went to graduate school at age 36 and recently became a history professor; and Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, BR '68, GRD '72.

Students appreciate and enjoy the teas in many different ways. Kleinfeld recalls one student experiencing "sophomore slump" and found that attending Hill's talk gave her a greater sense of purpose and a wider perspective. Jaime Moo-Young, JE '02, sees the teas as a means of "self-edification," commenting, "It was really exciting to be able to see actor Dennis Hopper talk about pop art and [up-and-coming fashion designer] Sandy Dalal speak about his line of work in person."

You may be watching politicians or movie stars on television tonight, but when you arrive at Yale, you never know who you might get to see live and in person at a Master's tea.

Photo of Larry Flynt by Julia Paolitto.

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