Yaasi-Yager Scholarship Sheds Light on the Importance of Diversity and Acceptance

One day while in his dorm room in the Terraces, Robert Yaasi ‘69, from Ghana, West Africa, heard what sounded like Bob Dylan music coming from the room next to his. Wanting some quiet, he went over and knocked on the door of his neighbor Steve Yager ‘69.

When the door opened, Yaasi asked what it would take for Yager to turn down his music. Yager responded, ‘I'll only do it if you get me a lion from Africa.’  But the only lion Bob had ever seen was at the London Zoo.

After this lighthearted exchange, Yaasi and Yager quickly became friends. Now, half a century later, their friendship has led to the creation of a scholarship for students from Africa and Asia so they could have the same college experience.

It is called the Yaasi-Yager endowed scholarship, and the goal is to provide future generations of students from other countries the chance to experience the kind of friendship that they did, one that changed their lives. “Because of my friendship with Bob,  I learned what it was like for someone to come to Ithaca from another country and how different life is for black people in the United States,” Yager said.

This is a viewpoint that can be especially valuable for college students. “When you’re in an academic setting, you should learn to accept others,” Yager said. “When you do that, you get [a better] education.”

Since they first met 50 years ago, Yaasi and Yager have occasionally gone in different directions. Yaasi, who was a television-radio major, later received his Masters’ degree from the University of Maryland, and was an assistant professor at the Howard University College of Dentistry; in charge of media for teaching dentistry. Yager majored in accounting and received his Masters’ degree in special education from Hofstra University. He later worked as a teacher at the Fairfax County Public schools. Yager is also a major dealer and collector of photographs; specializing in early photographs. His collecting interests include African-American and African images and he has major collections by James Vanderzee and Barbara Morgan

But although they have taken different paths since Ithaca, the pair have remained a constant presence in each other’s lives. They have traveled to Ghana together three times and Yaasi visited the Yager family several times in both Long Island and Florida.

Yaasi believes that there is something to be learned from the friendship that he and Yager have. “Human beings should be true to themselves,” he said. “You must try to look at other human beings the way anybody should look at you. If Steve and I simply tried to please [everyone else] I don’t think [our friendship] would have gone anywhere.”