Watch for frequent updates!

Yale 62

Yale: Choice or Destiny?

Streets of gold

By Lee V. Bakunin

Heritage is a combination of seemingly unrelated events and circumstances. Pursuing dreams amidst challenges, adversity and successes left by others. A gift and a puzzlement.

Why Yale? Here’s my story: You decide.

I was the hope from my parents and grandparents that my life would thrive and leave a legacy for future generations.

The catalyst was my Grandmother Stella, an outspoken independent 17-year-old Russian immigrant from Kritchov Shtetl. Arriving at Ellis Island in 1905 along with a neighborhood protector, Aron Bakunin. Two peasants escaping the pogroms, discrimination and antisemitism.

Settling in the Lower East Side of New York City, they soon married. Neither spoke English, but they learned very quickly.

To them, this was a land, as stated in the steamship circulars and advertisements of the day, of milk and honey with streets paved of gold.

Gold meant freedom. Milk and honey meant the potential rewards possible if you were willing to adapt and overcome challenges. Precious commodities that did not exist under the Czar.

First child born in 1907 – Morris Irving Bakunin.

Life was hard.

Aron worked as a tailor and Stella became active in the Jewish community in a variety of organizations. Morris was the future they would guard and nurture jealously despite any struggle or obstacle that would come their way.

Active in the ladies’ organizations,, she was an excellent negotiator whether dealing with a butcher, politician or realtor when moving to Bridgeport, CT or her Morris.

Her Morris was going to achieve the American dream – That Was It!

Education: he would go to college and graduate schools, the best schools, and then became a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Woe to anyone who would counsel her otherwise.

She and Morris had traveled to Russia in 1913 to visit family. Caught in the beginning of the Russian Revolution, it would be 14 months later when they found a ship to return.

That experience left an indelible mark on my father, who realized that he would have to succeed financially and develop an inner toughness that could weather any storm that would come his way. He’d be a tough cookie wanting me to succeed and avoid complacency.

Aron and Stella never made much, but they saved, little by little.

In 1910, Stella gave birth to her second child, my uncle Davy – David Zachary Bakunin. Davy was challenged from birth with a neurological disorder that caused epilepsy.

Morris would become his guardian and protector through childhood and later in life which he did without question nor remorse. I believe this experience led him toward medicine and becoming an OB-GYN specialist.

He went to public schools in Bridgeport and was a good student.

Grandma Stella was a force to be reckoned with. Good luck if you ever tried to win an argument from her. Like Mamie Yokum in the cartoon script “L’il Abner,” her opinion was unshakeable. When she spoke, you listened and followed.

No one could persuade her once she made up her mind, not even my father. When she said “Do,” you did.

I never won an argument from my father. Neither did he with his mother.

My father was accepted to Tufts University with a 4-year scholarship to study pre-med. Grandma Stella said “No,” it wasn’t good enough and the only school good enough for her Morris was Yale in New Haven. Only 23 miles from Bridgeport and there were relatives there.

So, off to Yale my father went, Morris Irving Bakunin. Being a good-looking, sociable chap and a Renaissance man, he changed the spelling and intonation to “Maurice.” French spelling and intrigue like the famous actor, Maurice Chevalier. A more befitting name for a Yalie. He never changed it legally; however, my grandmother never seemed to object, as long as he pursued medicine and none of the other Jewish ladies made comments.

Besides, other Jewish personalities of the day had done the same. Bennie Kubelsky to Jack Benny. Issur Davielovich to Kirk Douglas and Frances Gumm to Judy Garland.

Dad thrived at Yale. Pre-med, class of ‘28s, he was athletic, played lacrosse and was president of his fraternity. Upon graduation, he was accepted at Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, receiving his M.D. in 1932.

An interesting aside was that there were already relatives in Philadelphia.

I’m sure Grandma Stella’s influence was somehow present when I was accepted at Yale and my father convinced me, over my desire to go to Stanford or Princeton.

Did I really have a choice?


We welcome your comments below.

2 comments to Yale: Choice or Destiny?

  • Jay Hatch

    Lee, Like you, I didn’t have a choice, but for other reasons. My mother’s father went to Yele, as did her two brothers, so I gew up thinking Yale was the only place. (I learned much later that my grandfatehr’s older brother had gone to Harvard.) I was interested in a program at Harvard, but no “Yale said they would accept me” (legacy) and so I went. Unfortuneately I was not a hard studying student, or at least not a successful one, so only was accepted into one of six law schools I applied to (Columbia told me I’d be lucky to get past the automatic rejection stage!), and once at law school, realized I wasn’t lawyer material. Jay

  • Bill Weber

    Lee, Thanks for this great story of your immigrant parents and the success’ that followed. My maternal grandparents came to America via Ellis Island in 1906 after Norway got its independence from Sweden and the poverty that ensued from the separation of the two states. My mother was the first and only child to go to college and she just happened to meet a Yale grad of the class of 1933. Yale was always an integral part of my high school education with numerous visits to New Haven for football games and various Yale type activities. When it came to apply for college I was accepted at Yale and Stanford and, without any “advice”, chose Yale to my father’s pleasure.
    So you can see, Lee, why I favor the slight advantage legacy students have over the other Yale applicants, even in today’s world of entitlement and sense of fairness.
    And–thanks for your help on the Yale62 communication team. Bill