“An Inspired Choice”: Claudine Gay Makes History as Harvard’s First Black President

In a groundbreaking moment in Harvard University’s rich history, Claudine Gay was inaugurated as the institution’s 30th president on a rainy Friday, marking a significant milestone. In a historic first, Gay becomes the first Black person and the second woman to lead this prestigious Ivy League school.

A Historic Inauguration

The inauguration ceremony, held in Cambridge, unfolded under a blanket of rain and a sea of umbrellas and windbreakers. 

Claudine Gay, standing on that stage, acknowledged the gravity of the moment. “I stand before you on this stage with the weight and the honor of being a first,” she declared, her words resonating.

Her Vision for Harvard

In her address, President Gay shared her profound vision for Harvard, articulating her commitment to the institution and higher education as a whole.

“I stand before you today humbled by the prospect of leading Harvard, emboldened by the trust you have placed in me, and energized by your own commitment to this singular institution and to the common cause of higher education,” she stated passionately.

“The courage of this University — our resolve, against all odds — to question the world as it is and imagine and make a better one: It is what Harvard was made to do,” Gay added, highlighting the university’s fundamental purpose.

Honoring the Past

Gay honored the memory of four enslaved African Americans who were once in the ownership of the university’s founding president. 

She said, “Bilhah, Titus, Venus, and Juba lived and worked in Wadsworth House as the personal property of the president of Harvard University. My story is not their story. But our stories and the stories of the many trailblazers between us are linked by this institution’s long history of exclusion and the long journey of resistance and resilience to overcome it.”

Widespread Support

Support for President Gay poured in from various quarters. Massachusetts Governor and Harvard graduate Maura Healey acknowledged the historic significance of Gay’s presidency. 

“President Gay, your presidency is truly historic,” Healy emphasized. “You have my admiration and support.”

Selecting President Gay

Gay’s election as president followed an intensive search conducted by the Harvard Corporation, the university’s principal governing board. 

Lawrence Bacow Praises President Gay’s Integrity

Outgoing president Lawrence Bacow expressed confidence in Gay’s abilities. “Claudine is a person of bedrock integrity,” Bacow remarked in the Harvard Gazette.

“She will provide Harvard with the strong moral compass necessary to lead this great university. The search committee has made an inspired choice for our 30th president. Under Claudine Gay’s leadership, Harvard’s future is very bright.”

Harvard Roots

Gay’s association with Harvard runs deep. She earned her Ph.D. in government from Harvard in 1998 and joined the university’s faculty in 2006. 

Her academic prowess was recognized early on when she received the prestigious Toppan Prize for the best dissertation in political science.

Gay has held significant roles within Harvard, having previously served as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. 

Moreover, she is a distinguished scholar of political behavior and the founding chair of the Inequality in America Initiative, a multidisciplinary effort launched in 2017 to delve into research on social and economic inequality.

With Claudine Gay at the helm, Harvard University enters a new chapter marked by diversity, inclusivity, and a commitment to the pursuit of knowledge.

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