Harvard University President Claudine Gay was showered with “good vibes” and rain during her inauguration ceremony Friday afternoon, in which Gay was formally installed as the University’s 30th president.
The event, filled with tradition, pomp, and circumstance, served as an opportunity to celebrate Gay’s ascension through Harvard’s ranks. Gay, 53, returned to the University as a professor of Government in 2006, later serving as dean of Social Sciences and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences before becoming the first person of color to lead America’s oldest academic institution.
Though Gay officially assumed the presidency on July 1 — just over 25 years after she graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. in Government — the University Marshal’s Office waited until students and faculty returned to campus for the fall semester to formally inaugurate the new president.
In separate speeches, both Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey ’92 and City University of New York Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez expressed confidence in Gay’s ability to serve as a leader for Harvard and the rest of higher education.
Matos Rodríguez said that “Harvard’s president is often expected to speak on behalf of the entire sector” of higher education.
“This is not an easy task given the diversity of the institutions that comprise the higher education landscape in the U.S., but if someone is profoundly capable and unmistakably ready to do this — it is President Claudine Gay,” Matos Rodríguez said. “I have no doubt that she will represent all of us in higher education with passion, integrity, and vision.”
Healey praised Gay’s academic accomplishments and leadership acumen.
“President Gay, your achievements as a scholar and a leader are pathbreaking and remarkable, as befits this great university,” Healey said. “Having gotten to know you personally, I believe your wisdom and integrity, your humane and inclusive vision make you a leader for our time.”
Matos Rodríguez also discussed Gay’s personal ties to his institution, the City University of New York. Gay’s parents — Claudette Gay and Sony Gay Sr. — both attended CUNY after immigrating to the U.S. from Haiti, becoming a registered nurse and civil engineer, respectively.
“Gay was fundamentally shaped by her parents’ belief that college opens every door and they inspired her daughter to pursue her own education, setting her on a path to become the new president of Harvard,” Matos Rodríguez said.
“President Gay has said that Harvard has a duty to lean in and engage, and to be in service of the world,” he added. “With her broad perspective and high standards for excellence, I know that President Gay is more than ready for the task at hand.”
The two hour-long ceremony began with a land acknowledgment and invocation before Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81, the leader of the University’s highest governing body, took the podium to deliver brief remarks.
“I welcome my fellow members of the University community and our many distinguished guests to this historic occasion as we proudly install the 30th president in Harvard’s 387-year history, Claudine Gay,” Pritzker said.
She also acknowledged Gay’s family members — who were seated in the first two rows of the crowd — and welcomed the delegates attending the inauguration, representing “more than 185 educational institutions, learned societies, and professional organizations.”
A series of speakers representing each sector of the University — students, faculty, and staff — took the stage to offer remarks and congratulations to Gay.
Harvard Alumni Association President Tracy “Ty” Moore ’06 concluded the series of addresses by asking the audience to engage in an impromptu bonding exercise.
Telling the rows of ponchos and umbrellas crowded into Tercentenary Theatre to raise both arms and touch their neighbors, Moore asked the audience to create a “humongous hug” to “shower [Gay] with good vibes.”
Harvard Board of Overseers President Meredith L. “Max” Hodges ’03 then invited Gay’s predecessors to present Gay with several historic insignia of office.
Former University President Lawrence H. Summers presented Gay with the University’s ceremonial keys, which represent the “opening of doors to knowledge and truth,” according to Hodges. Former Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust gave Gay a volume of the College’s records dating back to 1638. Gay’s immediate predecessor, Lawrence S. Bacow, presented her with the two official Harvard seals.
Pritzker concluded the portion of the ceremony featuring the trappings of Harvard tradition by handing Gay “one final symbol of authority”: the Charter granted to Harvard College in 1650 by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
“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,” she said.
Pritzker then invited Gay to sit in the Holyoke Chair, which has served as the official seat of the Harvard president since the 18th century.
“Madam President, the chair is yours,” Pritzker said to resounding applause.
—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on X @claireyuan33.