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Harvard holds inauguration for first Black president

Claudine Gay's inauguration speech included a message to students: Take risks and challenge the status quo.
Harvard holds inauguration for first Black president
Posted at 3:28 PM, Oct 02, 2023

Claudine Gay is now officially Harvard's 30th president. She was inaugurated in a ceremony on Friday. 

Gay is Harvard's first Black president and only the second woman to ever lead the university. 

“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,” Gay said in her inauguration speech, according to the Harvard Gazette. "And because of the collective courage of all those who walked that impossible distance, across centuries, and dared to create a different future, I stand before you on this stage — in this distinguished company and magnificent theater, and at this moment of challenge in our nation and in the world, with the weight and honor of being a ‘first’ — able to say, ‘I am Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University.’”

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The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gay earned her Ph.D. in government from Harvard in 1998. Prior to taking the job of president, she served as the dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 2018.

After only a few days on the job, Gay's presence is already having a profound effect. 

“As a Black woman, it’s just so incredible to have somebody who looks like me, from a similar background from me, achieve so much," Leticia Sefia, a student who attended the inauguration festivities, told the Harvard Gazette. "It’s such an inspiration to be in her presence, to be a part of the ceremony and I just wish her the best."

Gay's message to Harvard students is to take risks and challenge the status quo.

"Asking ‘Why not?’ should be a Harvard refrain — the willingness to sound foolish, to risk ridicule, and be dismissed as a dreamer,” Gay said, the Harvard Gazette reported. “We’ve seen it time and time again — the courage to take a chance, even when success seems beyond reach.”

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