Davenport’s Proud History of Raising Famous Historians (Pt. 1)

Hello loyal readers.  This OurDavenport contributor remembers a final paper she wrote at around this time last year–it was 20 pages analyzing a collection of Romanov photo albums that we have here at Yale University.  And her go-to secondary sources were three books all written by a historian named Robert K. Massie. Massie is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian who focuses on the Romanov dynasty (Russia’s royal family from 1613 to 1917).

And Massie studied United States and European history when he was a Davenporter at Yale!  From there he went on to be a Rhodes Scholar and a journalist for Newsweek and the Saturday Evening Post.  In 1867, before moving to France with his family, he published his breakthrough book (which was, again, very helpful for someone’s final paper) called Nicholas and Alexandra. It is a biography of the last Emperor and Empress of Russia. Interestingly, Massie moved his historical focus to the Romanovs when his son Robert was born with hemophilia, a disease which also afflicted Nicholas and Alexandra’s son, Alexis. Robert and his then-wife Suzanne wrote about French and American health care systems and about their experience having a son with hemophilia in their 1975 book, Journey.  In 1981, Massie won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Peter the Great: His Life and World.  Massie has gone on to write a number of books since 1981, including most recently,  Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, published in 2011.  This book won the 2012 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography.

Nicholas and Alexandra was turned into an 1971 Oscar-winning movie and Peter the Great was the inspiration for a 1986 Emmy-Award winning NBC miniseries.

Jefferson Mays: Tony Winner and Dporter!

Jefferson Mays is an American film, stage, and television actor. He has performed at La Jolla Playhouse, Long Wharf Theatre, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Playwrights Horizon.

For his performance in Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play I Am My Own Wife, Mays won many awards, including the 2004 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play.  In 2007, Mays gave two critically acclaimed performances on the Broadway stage, first as Henry Higgins in Pygmalion and then as Private Mason in Journey’s End. 

Notably, Mays starred in the 2013 Broadway musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, in which he played eight roles.  He wont the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical, was tied for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical, and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.  After this, he acted in The Front Page (with Nathan Lane, John Slattery, and John Goodman) and is currently starring in J.T. Roger’s new play Oslo on Broadway!

And when Davenport’s theater representative met him in the fall of 2014, he got really excited when she mentioned her residential college at Yale and asked if Davenport’s mascot is still the gnome.  Once a gnomie, always a gnomie!

Jefferson Mays with the cast of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (where three of the four leads were played by Yale alums!)

Sam Tsui DC’11 & “That’s Why I Chose Yale”

This past week, the regular decision Class of 2021 found out that they got into Yale! This reminds us here at ourdavenport about our own Yale acceptances. Namely about the video that we could not stop watching when we got in–That’s Why I Chose Yale.

Clip from the video

This video is catchy and impressive, but its also notable for starring a DPorter that has made a career for himself in entertainment–Sam Tsui ’11.

Sam Tsui used his acting and singing chops to support Yale (peep the DPort common room in the video) and he now has 2.7 million subscribers on Youtube! After graduating, he rose to fame as an internet celebrity and is known for covering songs by popular artists like Adele, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars, as well as some original songs, medleys, and mashups.

And to think it all got started in our very own backyard here in Davenport!

Bet you didn’t know this person was connected to Davenport!

Thornton Niven Wilder (April 17, 1897 – December 7, 1975) was an American playwright and novelist. He won three Pulitzer Prizes—for the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey and for the two plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth — and a U.S. National Book Award for the novel The Eighth Day.

He was also an early Davenport fellow!

Wilder graduated from Yale in 1920, before there was a residential college system in place. But together with his sister Isabel, who was an accomplished writer, Wilder became a Davenport fellow in the years after graduation.  Of all the residential colleges to get involved with, the Wilders chose us!

Photo of Wilder for his Yale College graduation, 1920

Samantha Power DC ’92 and Class Day

This week, the Class Day speaker for Commencement 2017 has been announced, and its Theo Epstein YC ’95!

With all the buzz about the upcoming Commencement, we can’t help but look back at last year’s Class Day, with Samantha Power DC ’92 giving a thoughtful and meaningful speech.

Samantha Power began her career as a journalist, before working at Harvard University. During this time, she won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a study of U.S. foreign policy in response to genocide. In 2008, she joined Obama’s State Department transition team. Working in the State Department and the National Security Council, she primarily focused on human rights and United Nations reform. She served a pivotal role in the Obama administration’s decision to intervene in Libya. She served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017. And in 2016, Forbes’ listed Power as the 41st most powerful woman in the world.

If you never got a chance to watch Samantha Power’s Class Day speech, or you simply want to rewatch your favorite parts, you can do so here!






Throwback Monday: A Gnome Origin Story

On April 22, 2010, the Yale Daily News dutifully reported on the thievery and origin story of Davenport’s beloved mascot. The story carried so much traction that it was reported on by national newspapers such as US News.
Here is the YDN article from that fateful day:

Davenport may have been the most popular residential college in a recent News survey, but D’porters have failed to do one important thing: protect their beloved gnome mascot.

Early Wednesday morning, the long-standing rivalry between Davenport and Pierson colleges resurfaced when a team of six to eight Piersonites (calling themselves the Gnomatic Travelocity Commission) stole the almost 300-pound gnome statue from the Davenport dining hall around 4:30 a.m., according to one of the bandits, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Pierson students awoke to an e-mail heralding the caper, with a poem and a photo of the gnome standing in the Pierson roof, donning a bright yellow Pierson T-shirt.

“It was very James Bond-like,” the anonymous Piersonite said. While explaining some of the details of the theft, he said members of the group “may have” broken in through the Davenport service entrance on York Street, but he refused to comment further.

The Pierson burglar said his team dodged several obstacles, including fire trucks responding to a 3 a.m. fire alarm in Davenport, students passing through the two colleges and a Bulldog Days event in the Davenport dining hall. He said members of the team distracted passersby who came close to discovering the theft in progress. The group then used an elevator shared by the two colleges to bring the statue to the Pierson seminar room, perching the gnome — clad in a Pierson freshman move-in day T-shirt — on the roof outside the seminar room window.

Once news got out about the burglary, a war of words —or rather, e-mails — ensued. Davenporter Kat Lau ’13 sent a spirited e-mail to the entire Davenport community, giving out the e-mail address Pierson-wide panlist and urging her fellow Davenporters to spam the more than 400 members of the panlist to demand the return of their beloved gnome.

“After a year of relatively civil relations between Pierson and Dport,” Lau wrote, “this is an outrage, and we must act.”

After Pierson students received about a dozen e-mails Wednesday afternoon containing the words “RETURN THE GNOME,” reply-all havoc ensued. Within about 15 minutes, Pierson College Council President Michael Chao ’11 said by e-mail that the Pierson panlist was disabled .

Barbara Munck ’84, a senior administrative assistant in Davenport (and former student in Pierson College), said the Pierson Master’s Office contacted her Wednesday morning to let her know that the gnome was in Pierson. Pierson administrators then hired a moving team to remove the gnome from the roof, Munck said, out of fear that it might fall on a passerby.

The theft was only one in a long history of attempts to steal the Davenport gnome. Munck recalled other successful captures, including one in the late 1990s when the Men of JE, a “fake” a cappella group affiliated with Jonathan Edwards College, stole the statue and engraved their names in the book that the gnome holds. The damage has since been repaired, Munck said.

Davenport alumnus James Schulte ’07 experienced a gnome burglary attempt first-hand. During the Davenport renovations in spring 2005, Schulte said, he entered the Swing Space Master’s Office, the gnome’s temporary home, after normal hours to get a spare key for a student who was locked out of his room. Schulte was surprised to find a stowaway who had infiltrated the office in a big refrigerator box that had been delivered by Piersonites disguised as UPS men. After the interloper fled, Schulte said he chased and caught him, getting him to admit his intention to steal the gnome.

“I saved the gnome, but I didn’t even know what I was saving,” Schulte said.

Perhaps worse for the would-be thief, Munck said she had worked late that night, and so the Piersonite must have been sitting in his box for hours longer than he expected, only to fail in his attempt to steal the gnome. Munck said she had heard noises while working but had been unable to identify the source before leaving the office that day.

After this incident, Schulte said there was some debate about where to place the statue in the newly renovated college. In the end, he said, the gnome was put in the dining hall servery, where it currently resides. He added that the Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld decided at that time that the risks of theft were worth keeping the gnome in a prominent place, given the statue’s symbolic status.

In a prior life, Davenport’s mascot was a mere statue. Thomas Shaw ’99 originally brought the gnome to college in 1997 to decorate his room, Munck said. Shaw, a resident of Davenport’s party suite, the Cottage, donated the gnome statue when he graduated, at which point it became the college’s mascot.

David Valdez ’01 recalled the first time he saw the statue arrive in the college, in a huge wooden crate. After that point, he said, the gnome became the emblem of Davenport, which explains the moral outrage whenever it gets pilfered, which Munck said has happened about five times.

“It’s like having your little brother stolen,” he quipped. “It’s kidnapping to the highest degree.”

Munck, too, said gnome theft is “kind of tacky” and that there are other ways to display friendly rivalry that do not involved vandalism.

While three Davenporters interviewed Wednesday said the kidnapping added excitement to an otherwise typical day, vengeance is still on the minds of many. Once when members of Ezra Stiles College stole the gnome in 2000, Valdez said, D’porters struck back by stealing the Stiles hammock. Lau, who encouraged her fellow Gnomes via e-mail to “brainstorm” ideas, admitted that what will happen after Wednesday’s theft remains to be determined.

“I don’t know if anything is going to happen. Our dining hall staff is really upset and wants us to do something,” she joked. “If we did anything, it wouldn’t be a big deal. We wouldn’t steal anything from Pierson because there’s nothing to steal there.”

Rashid Khalidi DC ’70

Rashid Khalidi has come back to Davenport (for one day!), reminding us of the long, illustrious and controversial path that this Davenport alum has been on since he left us.

Rashid Khalidi is a prominent Middle Eastern scholar and director of Columbia’s School of International Affairs. Khalidi is a Palestinian American whose writings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Palestinian struggle for statehood have been as controversial as they have been well-lauded. A supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Khalidi has been featured on NPR’s All things Considered, Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation, BBC and many other news outlets. He is currently serving as the editor of the scholarly Journal of Palestine Studies. He is a member of the National Advisory Committee of the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, which describes itself as “a national organization of Jews, Christians and Muslims dedicated to dialogue, education and advocacy for peace based on the deepest teachings of the three religious traditions”.