The ‘yael’ and a Yalie: A graduation tale

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At the head of every Yale Commencement procession is a marshal holding a mace depicting the mythical “yael” — a creature with the head of a goat, boar-like tusks, golden horns alternately curling front and back, and a protruding red tongue.

Among the students who will march in the wake of the yael mace this year is a descendant of the man who in the 1950s designed the iconic mace, as well as many of the banners used at graduation.

I-Hwei Warner ’19 M.B.A. and the “yael” mace.
I-Hwei Warner ’19 M.B.A. and the “yael” mace.

I-Hwei Warner, a soon-to-be graduate of the Yale School of Management (SOM), is the great-grandson of Theodore Sizer (1892-1967), an art historian, director of the Yale University Art Gallery, and “amateur heraldist with a twinkle in his eye,” according to I-Hwei’s father and Sizer’s grandson, Roger Warner ’74.

An internationally renowned art authority and conservationist, Sizer was also a prolific designer and artist. In addition to the yael, he designed banners for the then-10 residential colleges and several graduate schools, among other Yale symbols. An exhibition in honor of his 70th birthday in 1962 showcased other products of Sizer’s creativity, from hooked rugs to paintings, calligraphy, bookplates, designs for silver and china, and numerous publications. That same year, Sizer was awarded a Yale Medal for outstanding service to the university. The citation read in part: “His artistry, the skill of his hand, and the vitality of his spirit have added character and beauty to this University. No son of Harvard has been more loyal to Yale.”

Like his great-grandfather and father before him, I-Hwei Warner felt an affinity for Yale when he visited SOM while choosing which business school to attend. “I was attracted to the school’s mission, to educate leaders for business and society, and by the feel of the campus,” says Warner.

A 2009 graduate of Bates College, Warner served in the U.S. Army 2010-2016, leading infantry and military intelligence units in training and while deployed to the Middle East. He subsequently joined JPMorgan Chase & Co. through its Pathways Development Program, an initiative that allows veterans to rotate through the firm’s divisions while considering their future path. At SOM, Warner was part of the MBA for Executives program, which allows professionals to work full-time during the week while taking classes on alternate weekends. After graduation, he is moving to Los Angeles to work for an aerospace startup.

I-Hwei, Roger Warner, and a few of their relatives recently had the opportunity to examine the yael mace and other examples of their forebearer’s Yale creations up close. For the SOM student, it was a chance to learn more about a man he’s heard about all his life. “He’s always been a central part of the family lore. I’ve heard so many stories about him. For instance, he was one of the ‘monument men’ [who helped conserve important cultural artifacts during World War II],” the Yale student says. “My dad is a bit of a historian about him.”

Theodore “Tubby” Sizer and the yael mace, which he designed.
Theodore “Tubby” Sizer

According to Roger Warner, Theodore Sizer (known as “Tubby” to his friends) first proposed his yael design to then-Yale president Whitney Griswold. The “yale” or “yael” is the name of both a type of ibex still found in Israel and a mythological creature in Europe during the Middle Ages that was portrayed with forward- and backward-facing horns.

In coming up with the comical design for his ‘yael’ mace, Tubby Sizer was spoofing the pomposity to which all universities are prone,” contends Roger Warner. “In a sense, I believe, he was proposing an alternative to Yale’s regular mascot, the bulldog, and deliberately making this alternative university symbol (with its tongue sticking out and its fore-and-aft horns) looking as endearingly silly as possible.

It was a joke that he made with great fondness and tact, because he truly loved the university,” he adds.

Sizer died 52 years ago, notes Roger Warner, “[B]ut if his spirit is still around, and I think it is, certainly at Commencement time, he is still chuckling at the joke.”