11/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Yalie Roots For Harvard

There are boo hoos instead of Boola Boolas in New Haven this year. For the first time in 40 years, there will be no Yale graduate on the ballot for president or vice president.

I was in the first group of women who graduated from Yale, which went coed after nearly 300 years as a completely male institution. I am not a particularly active alum, but I always felt proud of my association with Yale. Until I was associated by definition with another Yalie -- who graduated 3 years ahead of me.

George W. Bush represented a longstanding tradition -- when birth into the right family guaranteed a Yale diploma. His was the last class composed of privileged white sons who could glide into Yale based purely on their father's names.

Bush represented the end of an era; women like me represented the beginning of a new one. I stepped onto the Yale campus only months after Bush left it. But it was already a different institution, thanks to Yale's president Kingman Brewster and Admissions Director Inslee Clark, who changed admissions policies, battled furious alumni and transformed Yale forever.

In the late 1960's, Yale, one of the world's top schools, began to admit the top students. Today this is a given -- our top institutions are diverse communities, with need-blind admissions, based on the merit system. Where achievement and ability can trump an elite pedigree.

A typical example of the new era is Barack Obama, graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, who in the old era would never have set foot on either of those renowned campuses. His place at the top of the ticket this year represents a seismic shift not only in politics, but in our elite educational institutions.

John McCain, son of a decorated admiral, won a place at the naval academy due to his family history -- and graduated 894th out of 899 students. That's the old system.
Obama, son of a Kenyan student and an impoverished young mother, won a place at Harvard Law due to his qualifications and hard work -- and was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. That's the new system. Which ideally represents the best our elite institutions can offer.

Though a Yale graduate will not be on the national ballot this year, I'm proud that I was part of the changes in those "elite institutions." And on November 4, this Yalie, for the first time, will be rooting for Harvard.