Phyllis Yale ’78 discovered on her first day of college that her last name was not particularly loved here.
While calling her parents collect to tell them she had arrived, Yale elicited a strong reaction from the operator connecting her.
“Young lady,” the operator said, “You are in Cambridge. You can’t use that word here.”
Three decades later, Yale is an enthusiastic nominee for Harvard’s Board of Overseers.
Yale, who is currently managing director of the Boston office for consulting firm Bain and Co., owes her name to the Ellis Island immigration official who assisted her Eastern European grandparents when they arrived in the United States.
She is one of eight candidates nominated for a place on the 30-person Board of Overseers, one of Harvard’s two governing boards.
The Board of Overseers works in conjunction with Harvard’s highest governing board, the Corporation, to oversee many aspects of the University’s administration.
Every year, five Harvard alums are elected by their fellow alums to a six-year term on the board.
Overseers give formal approval to Corporation decisions on appointments and other major initiatives and serve on visiting committees that evaluate graduate schools, departments and museums.
A competitive swimmer as an undergraduate, Yale said that every crowd at Harvard swim meets was confused when her name and school were announced.
“When I was standing on the blocks before the race, they would announce me as ‘Phyllis Yale from Harvard,’ and no one would get it,” said Yale, who graduated from Harvard Business School in 1982.
Elizabeth E. Yale, a second-year doctoral student in the History of Science department, also shares the experience of being a Yale at Harvard.
“Here it seems to be worth a giggle or two if people notice it,” she said. She added, however, “my last name was a much more common topic of conversation when I was an undergraduate at Yale.”
University spokesperson Alvin Powell declined to comment on Yale’s candidacy for the Overseers.
Phyllis Yale was selected by a 15-person nominating committee largely composed of Harvard alums.