Harvard University is arguably the most prestigious college in America.
Claudine Gay has made history becoming the first African-American to serve as president of Harvard University.
Also, Gay is the second woman to serve as president of the prestigious Ivy League institution in Massachusetts.
Gay said, “I stand before you on this stage with the weight and the honor of being a first.”
Harvard opened its doors in 1640 and Gay is the 30th president to lead the school.
On her vision for Harvard, the school president said, “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…
“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.”
Even Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, a Harvard graduate, spoke about the historic hiring of Gay.
Gov. Healey said, “President Gay, your presidency is truly historic. You have my admiration and support.”
After a lengthy search, the Harvard Corporation, which serves as the school’s governing body, chose Gay to lead the university.
In the Harvard Gazette, outgoing president Lawrence Bacow said, “Claudine is a person of bedrock integrity. 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.”
Gay earned her doctorate degree in government from Harvard in 1998.
In 2006, Gay joined the school faculty.
While pursuing her doctorate, Gay earned the Toppan Prize, which goes to the political science student with the best dissertation.
According to CNN, “Gay previously served as Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She’s also a leading scholar of political behavior and is the founding chair of Inequality in America Initiative, a multidisciplinary effort launched in 2017 to research social and economic inequality.”
Many in the African-American community see the inauguration of Gay as a full circle moment for their community.
Harvard, and many Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities, have a checkered past with the African-American community.
Because of segregation, many African-Americans could not initially attend some of the most known universities in America.
Furthermore, many stellar colleges like Harvard benefitted and blossomed because of the enslavement of African-Americans.
Prestigious universities once actively recruited the children of wealthy slaveowners so that the rich parents would have motivation to donate large sums of money to those schools.
Therefore, many of the nation’s most respected schools of higher learning built their wealth off slavery.
Additionally, prestigious universities forced slaves to build the school and “work” for the universities, meaning the schools received free labor.
Lastly, many Ivy League students performed scientific experiments on dead bodies of formerly enslaved African-Americans.
Therefore, many scientific advancements can be credited to the work done on enslaved bodies.
Natalie Sadlak, a Harvard medical student in her final year, praised the selection of Gay saying that the new president will bring a “different perspective from her predecessors” and will present a “new vision for Harvard’s future.”
Sadlak added, “With recent reports of [Harvard’s] entanglement with slavery as well as current battles over affirmative action, many students felt that this moment called us to repair past harms and actively step into a more just future. Many look to our next president to guide us through this reckoning…
“We are lucky enough to have found that person in President Gay.”
Recently, Georgetown University and the Jesuits pledged $27 million in land and financial reparations to the descendants of slaves who built that university, which is located in the nation’s capital.
At her inaugural address on Sept. 29, Gay added, “Our stories—and the stories of the many trailblazers between us—are linked by the institution’s long history of exclusion and the long journey of resistance and resilience to overcome it. And because of the collective courage of all those who dared to create a different future, I stand before you on this stage able to say, ‘I am Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University.’”
During her first speech, Gay said, “Asking ‘Why not?’ should be a Harvard refrain—the willingness to sound foolish, risk ridicule, be dismissed as a dreamer. We’ve seen it time and again—the courage to take a chance, even when success seems beyond reach, And the courage to collaborate, to listen, to compromise, to grow.”
Leticia Secia, a Harvard junior, told the Harvard Gazette, “As a Black woman, it’s just so incredible to have somebody who looks like me, from a similar background as me, achieve so much.”
Gay is a daughter of Haitian immigrants.
The Harvard Crimson reported, “Gay also extended her gratitude to her family—in attendance were her father, Sony Gay Sr., her husband, Chris Afendulis, and her son, Costa Gay-Afendulis. Missing from the crowd was her mother, Claudette Gay, who passed away earlier this year.”
Gay said, “I wish very much that she were here, if only for the chance to hear her say, ‘I told you so,’”
Matos Rodriguez from the City University of New York said, “Gay was fundamentally shaped by her parents’ belief that college opens every door, and they inspired (their) daughter to pursue her own education, setting her on a path to become the new president of Harvard.
“President Gay has said that Harvard has a duty to lean in and engage, and to be in service of the world. With her broad perspective and high standards for excellence, I know that President Gay is more than ready for the task at hand.”