Claudine Gay has created history in becoming the first black president of one of the most prestigious institutions in the world – Harvard University.
On December 15, 2022, Penny Pritzker ‘81, the senior fellow of Harvard Corporation, announced Gay’s appointment to become president once she assumes office on July 1, 2023.
She will be succeeding the current president, Lawrence S. Bacow.
In a speech she gave on Thursday (December 15), she reflected on her personal history and the culture surrounding education in which her parents grew.
“My parents are immigrants from Haiti. They came to the US with very little and put themselves through college while raising their family. My mom became a registered nurse and my dad a civil engineer and it was the City College of New York that made those careers possible. College was always the expectation for me,” she said.
“My parents believe that education opens every door.”
Gay lived in New York and later moved to Saudi Arabia, due to her father’s work with the US Army Corps of Engineers. At the tertiary level, she studied economics at Stanford University and later pursued her PhD at Harvard.
Gay performed outstandingly within her academics, having received the Anna Laura Myers Prize for the best undergraduate thesis in economics at Stanford and the Toppan Prize for the best dissertation in political science at Harvard.
To name a few of her many endeavours as an academic, Gay has worked in numerous academic institutes over the years – from serving as an assistant professor and later an associate professor in the department of political science at Stanford University (2000-2006). In the period during which she worked as a professor, she was also a fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences (2003-2004).
In July 2018, she was announced as the Edgerley Family Dean of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Gay speaks highly of Harvard.
“I love this place. Harvard is where I found my intellectual home. It has nature and inspired me since I first set foot in the Yard,” she said.
“I am deeply invested, not only in what Harvard is today, but also in what Harvard leadership means for the future,” She expressed during her speech on Thursday.
Reactions of the Public
The announcement of Gay’s upcoming presidency received the support and celebration of many online. Her overall work and research, along with the history she has made, is being praised all over as the news continues to spread.
Many fellow academics speak highly of her achievement.
“For all her professional accomplishments, even more impressive are Claudine’s personal qualities- her quality and clarity of mind, her broad curiosity about fields beyond her own, her integrity and fair-mindedness, and her dedication to creating opportunities for others. She will be a great Harvard president in no small part because she is such a good person,” Pritzker said.
“A woman is leading Harvard University for only the second time in history, and she’s breaking another barrier. Claudine Gay is the first person of colour to be named president. Congrats to her!” journalist Deborah Roberts posted on Twitter.
With many colleges often emulating Harvard, this announcement will no doubt open doors and opportunities beyond the walls of the university itself.
“One way colleges can follow Harvard’s lead is by hiring highly qualified presidents of colour,” said Shaun Harper, a professor of education and business at the University of Southern California.
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