As it Happened: Harvard President Claudine Gay’s Inauguration


Claudine Gay was inaugurated on Friday afternoon as the 30th president of Harvard University, symbolically assuming leadership of the University during a ceremony held in Tercentenary Theatre amid a heavy downpour.

Gay, who has led Harvard since officially taking office in July, was celebrated throughout the two-hour ceremony with a slew of speeches and several artistic performances.

After she was presented with the traditional symbols of the Harvard presidency, Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81 — the leader of the University’s highest governing body — formally installed Gay as president.

“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,” Pritzker said.


This page is no longer being updated. Read back through The Crimson’s live coverage of the ceremony below:

The Ceremony Concludes - 4:34 p.m.

With the end of Gay’s inaugural address, Hodges offered brief concluding remarks before handing off the podium to professor of English and African and African American Studies Tracy K. Smith ’94 to deliver the benediction. The ceremony officially concluded with the singing of “Fair Harvard,” with instrumental backing by the Harvard University Band.

Then, as Harvard Bhangra flooded the aisles with colorful attire and lively music, the sea of red and black robes on stage — led by the newly installed president — processed out of Tercentenary Theatre towards the festivities in Old Yard.

President Gay Begins Inaugural Address – 3:45 p.m.

After she was formally inaugurated by the leaders of the University’s governing boards, Gay took the podium and began delivering her inaugural speech.

Gay started her address by thanking the audience for enduring through the rain — but joked that she would not shorten her speech.

“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.


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 had passed away earlier this year.

“I wish very much that she were here, if only for the chance to hear her say, ‘I told you so,’” Gay said.

Gay Presented with Charge, Insignia of Office – 3:40 p.m.

Harvard Board of Overseers President Meredith L. “Max” Hodges ’03 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 predecessor, Lawrence S. Bacow presented Gay with the two official Harvard seals, with one dating back to 1650 and the other adopted in 1885.

Pritzker, the Harvard Corporation senior fellow, then took the podium to present Gay with “one final symbol of authority,” the Charter granted to Harvard College in 1650 by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Pritzker then turned to look at Gay.

“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,” Pritzker said.

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.

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


Addresses from Affiliate Representatives — 3:35 p.m.

Following a musical interlude by the Harvard Opportunes, Harvard’s oldest all-gender acapella group, a series of speakers representing each sector of the University took to the stage to offer remarks and congratulations to Gay.

Natalie Sadlak, a student in her final year at Harvard Medical School, represented Harvard students.

Sadlak — who served on the student advisory committee during the presidential search last fall — praised Gay for bringing a “different perspective from her predecessors” and representing a “new vision for Harvard’s future.”

“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,” Sadlak said. “Many look to our next president to guide us through this reckoning.”

“We are lucky enough to have found that person in President Gay,” she said.


Alpha Sanneh, associate director of Harvard University Information Technology, then spoke on behalf of the University’s staff.

“I’ve seen you in action,” Sanneh said. “We know what an amazing and inspiring leader you are.”

Sanneh talked about the “joy and elation” among staff at the selection of Gay as the newest Harvard president — with messages of hope for the future and admiration towards Gay.

“We hope that you will draw strength and support from the entire staff community,” he concluded. “We offer you our heartfelt support.”

Tommie Shelby — a professor of African and African American Studies and Philosophy — took the podium to represent the faculty.

Shelby, who served on the faculty committee for the presidential search, celebrated Gay for being “prepared to defend the value of higher education to an often skeptical public” and “committed to protecting our culture of open debrief, synchronous debate, and the free expression of ideas.”

Shelby also commended Gay for her “strong and steady character.”

“​​I can confidently and sincerely say that she is always herself,” he said. “She remains a humble and approachable, genuinely empathetic person worthy of our trust.”

Finally, Harvard Alumni Association President Tracy “Ty” Moore ’06 concluded the series of addresses. In addition to praising Gay — and similarly lauding the audience for braving the rain through the ceremony — Moore asked the audience to engage in a community 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.”

“President Gay, you have not only our heads, our minds, but also our hearts, our optimism, love, compassion, and faith in you,” Moore said. “Whenever times get tough, or you simply wish to share your successes with someone, remember this visual of our community, pouring our hearts into you despite the rain.”


CUNY Chancellor Praises Gay’s Ability to Represent Higher Ed — 3:20 p.m.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, the chancellor of the City University of New York, said he believes Gay is ready to serve as a representative and defender of all of higher education in his speech at her inauguration.

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.”


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 said. “With her broad perspective and high standards for excellence, I know that President Gay is more than ready for the task at hand.”

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey’s Address — 2:53 p.m.

Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey ’92 offered her congratulations to Gay on her installation as the 30th president of Harvard University, praising 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.”

Healey went on to praise Harvard as an “immensely important institution for Massachusetts,” lauding the state’s world-class hospitals, innovative scientific research, and progressive policies.

“The work that we do together matters,” Healey said. “And for that reason, we could not be more pleased to see President Gay rise to this position. She is a leader driven by her values.”

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


Senior Fellow Penny Pritzker Gives Opening Remarks — 2:50 p.m.

Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81 took the podium and briefly delivered opening remarks that provided an overview of the ceremony.

“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,” she said.

Pritzker acknowledged Gay’s family members, who were seated in the first two rows of the crowd.

Pritzker also welcomed the delegates attending the inauguration, representing “more than 185 educational institutions, learned societies, and professional organizations from the United States and around the world.”


The Ceremony Begins — 2:35 p.m.

The Memorial Church bells have rung, signaling the start of the inauguration ceremony.

The event started with an opening speech and land acknowledgment by Elizabeth E. Solomon ’79, elder of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag and director of administration at the Harvard School of Public Health.


Reverend Matthew Ichihashi Potts followed Solomon by delivering the invocation. Yosvany Terry, director of jazz ensembles and senior lecturer in music, then performed “America the Beautiful” on the saxophone.

Former Harvard Presidents Pose Together — 2:05 p.m.

Harvard University President Claudine Gay and her three immediate predecessors, Lawrence S. Bacow, Drew Gilpin Faust, and Lawrence H. Summers, posed for a photo outside Massachusetts Hall.


Mass. Hall, the oldest surviving building at Harvard, is home to the University president’s office.

Two living former Harvard presidents, Neil L. Rudenstine, 88, and Derek C. Bok, 93, were absent from the photo and will not be in attendance at the ceremony.

Following the photo, Bacow, Faust, and Summers made their way towards Tercentenary Theatre to join the academic procession as Gay headed back inside Mass. Hall for some last-minute preparations before her inauguration begins.

Academic Procession Begins — 2 p.m.

With the Harvard University Band playing, an academic procession featuring Harvard faculty and administrators started making their way to the stage at Tercentenary Theatre.

The inauguration ceremony is set to begin in 30 minutes.


Inauguration Treats — 1:51 p.m.

Harvard President Claudine Gay is being honored in almost every corner of the University today — including on dining hall cookies and cupcakes.

Harvard undergraduates were treated to special commemorative cookies and cupcakes during lunch at dining halls across the school’s upperclassmen houses. The rest of the meal was relatively standard, featuring grilled chicken and “battered & fried locally caught fresh fish.”


The Day Ahead — 11:48 a.m.

Happy Inauguration Day and good morning!

Today will be packed with festivities as University President Claudine Gay is formally inaugurated this afternoon as Harvard’s 30th president.

First on the schedule for today is the academic symposium consisting of six concurrent panels, which started at 10:15 a.m. Four of the panels are being held in the Science Center, with the other two in Jefferson Laboratory 250 and at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum in the Harvard Kennedy School.

Gay’s installation ceremony, the day’s marquee event, will start at 2 p.m. in Tercentenary Theatre, where guests will likely need to brave some New England rain to watch the inauguration.

Former Harvard presidents Lawrence S. Bacow, Drew Gilpin Faust, and Lawrence H. Summers will be in attendance as well as many members of Harvard’s governing boards. Several leaders of peer universities are also expected to attend, including Miami University President Julio Frenk and City University of New York Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez.

After the inauguration ceremony concludes around 4 p.m., Gay will be honored at a “community-wide celebration” in Harvard Yard featuring food and artistic performances.

What You Missed Last Night — 11:48 a.m.

The celebrations started Thursday evening in Sanders Theatre with an “Arts Prelude” event that was open by invitation only to University leaders, faculty, staff, prominent alumni and donors, and delegates to the inauguration from other colleges and universities.

The event featured several performances by student organizations, including the Harvard Ballet Company, the Asian American Dance Troupe, the Harvard Taekwondo Demonstration Team, and the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College. The Arts Prelude also featured several musical interludes and tributes to Gay.

Dessert and drinks were served in Annenberg Hall at the end of the event, giving guests a chance to mingle. The dessert selection featured several chocolate fountains and smaller tiramisu and chocolate mousse dessert shooters.

Among the guests enjoying the dessert selection on Thursday were former Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow, Adele F. Bacow, former University Treasurer Paul J. Finnegan ’75, and former Harvard Board of Overseers President Paul L. Choi ’86.