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Harvard University inaugurates first Black president Claudine Gay

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In a historic first, Harvard University inaugurated new president Claudine Gay.

On Friday, Claudine Gay took the oath, making her the first Black president in the Ivy League’s nearly 400-year history.

Claudine Gay
Harvard President Claudine Gay was formally installed in her new post Friday afternoon in an inauguration ceremony steeped in history. By Julian J. Giordano. Photo Courtesy: The Harvard Crimson.

She was born in New York City, where her parents, Haitian immigrants to the U.S., met as students (her mother was a registered nurse, her father a civil engineer).

Claudine Gay spent most of her childhood first in New York and then in Saudi Arabia.

The initiative is described as a “multidisciplinary effort to elevate and energize teaching and research on social and economic inequality.”

Claudine Gay
Claudine Gay speaks to the crowd after being named Harvard University’s next president. (Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

According to Gay’s bio on Harvard’s website, she has “explored such topics as how the election of minority officeholders affects citizens’ perceptions of their government and their interest in politics and public affairs; how neighborhood environments shape racial and political attitudes among Black Americans; the roots of competition and cooperation between minority groups, with a particular focus on relations between Black Americans and Latinos; and the consequences of housing mobility programs for political participation among the poor.”

“I stand before you on this stage with the weight and the honor of being a first able to say, I am Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University,” she said.

Claudine Gay
Claudine Gay was inaugurated as Havard’s 30th president in a ceremony steeped in history — and drenched in rain — Friday afternoon. By Addison Y. Liu.

“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 said as rain poured down on the inauguration ceremony in Cambridge.

Claudine Gay is the 30th president since Harvard University’s founding in 1640.

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In an address on Friday afternoon, Massachusetts Governor and Harvard graduate Maura Healey noted the significance of Gay’s presidency.

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

The Harvard Corporation, the University’s principal governing board, elected Gay after an intensive search, according to CNN.

“Claudine is a person of bedrock integrity,” outgoing president Lawrence Bacow said in the Harvard Gazette. “She will provide Harvard with the strong moral compass necessary to lead this great university. Under Claudine Gay’s leadership, Harvard’s future is very bright.”

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Claudine Gay received her Ph.D. in government from Harvard in 1998 and joined the Harvard faculty in 2006.

Further, she received the Toppan Prize for best dissertation in political science, according to the Harvard Gazette.

During the inauguration ceremony, Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny Pritzker declared:

“On behalf of the Corporation, and by virtue of the authority granted by the governing boards, I declare that you, Claudine Gay, have been duly elected to be the 30th president of Harvard University.”

“Madam President, the chair is yours,” Pritzker said to resounding applause.

Harvard President Claudine Gay takes her seat in the notoriously uncomfortable Holyoke Chair, one of several time-honored inauguration traditions. By Addison Y. Liu

Pritzker then invited Gay to sit in the Holyoke Chair, which has served as the official chair of the Harvard president since the 18th century, according to Harvard Crimson.

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