President Claudine Gay meets with the community in front of Massachusetts Hall in Harvard Yard

During one of her three stops for ice cream, Harvard President Claudine Gay (center) meets with the community in front of Massachusetts Hall in Harvard Yard.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Grabbing cool treat on hot day — and selfie with new president

Break-the-ice cream socials at Business School, Med School, Yard draw hundreds

7 min read

Claudine Gay didn’t even seem to notice — or mind — that her frozen treat had melted into slush under Tuesday’s summery heat and humidity.

One reason could be that she knew it was likely going to be a three-helping day anyway, as the new Harvard president planned to attend ice cream socials at the Business School and in the Yard after a stop at Harvard Medical School.

But another is that Gay, who stepped into her new job July 1, was clearly enjoying herself  — chatting, laughing, and taking the first of many, many selfies that would be snapped over the course of the afternoon at these break-the-ice cream events.

“It just makes you realize how big and diverse and dynamic our community is,” said Gay, standing under an archway of blue, pink, yellow, and green balloons on the Med School’s Countway Plaza. She noted that many of the people she talked to had come from places all around the world. “It’s wonderful, and it’s hard not to be energized by that.”

Hundreds of students, postdocs, interns, and high schoolers gathered at the Plaza Tent to enjoy snacks, ice cream, and Italian ice with Gay.

Grace Huang, a third-year in the orthodontics residency program, said it was her first time meeting Gay.

“You hear about her in the news, but it’s nice to see that she’s just as nice, peppy, and fun in person,” Huang said.

President Gay with two MBA students.

At Harvard Business School, President Gay has her photo taken in Schwartz Pavilion with M.B.A. students Neera Thavornvanit (left) and Teresa Danso-Danquah.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Irene Lang, who is also in the orthodontics residency program, said she finds it inspiring to see another woman in such a large leadership role at Harvard. Lang also admitted to being a little star struck.

“I was surprised to see her walking around in the crowd and be like, ‘Oh, she’s right there!’” Lang said. “It’s nice that she’s interested and showing an interest in what we’re doing and where we’re going after [at Harvard].”

Mayank Chugh had already met Gay. The postdoc in the lab of Sean Megason in the Department of Systems Biology communicated with her recently about how the University can better support postdoctoral candidates in his role as president of the Harvard Medical Postdoc Association. But meeting her in person was a whole other thing.

“The fact that she’s here on campus and meeting everyone — I’ve not seen so many people at once. She’s clearly approachable,” Chugh said while enjoying caramel popcorn. “She’s a leader with humility and dignity. To me that’s very impressive.”

At the  Business School, Gay welcomed a swell of HBS and SEAS students, faculty, staff, and visitors who had gathered on the Schwartz Pavilion lawn to meet her — and, in some cases, to introduce her to their elderly parents or their newborn children. And, yes, shoot a quick selfie.

Guests raced through chocolate eclair and strawberry shortcake ice cream bars before they melted as a DJ rocked R&B and funk classics — and Lizzo’s “It’s About Damn Time” for good measure.

Gay said she’s been consistently struck by the range of people she’s met so far and how much she’s still learning about what the University has to offer and what it means to so many.

“Staff, students, post-docs, high school interns — all showing up here and really proud to be associated with Harvard — that’s inspiring and just affirms what an enormous honor and privilege it is to lead this community,” said Gay. “Because it’s obviously a community that’s important in the lives of so many people.”

A large group of staff from the HBS admissions and financial aid office presented Gay with a tote bag full of swag and posed for a group photo. Another HBS staff member said she relates to the road Gay has traveled as a Haitian American woman and has been inspired by her achievements.

“I’m Haitian American, so I love seeing my Haitian people winning and her being in that position is very encouraging to me and I know to a lot of my friends,” said Deannah Blemur, a faculty support specialist from the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan, which has a large Haitian population. Blemur’s parents immigrated to Boston from the island nation to start a small business.

“This is energizing, and I’ve been promised every week of being president is just like this one — sunny skies and ice cream in the middle of the day,” Gay joked before dashing off to Harvard Yard.

There, Maya Sen, a professor at the Kennedy School since 2014, came out to support an old friend. She said she’s known Gay for almost 20 years, since she was an assistant professor at Stanford. And she brought her kids, Hugo and Silvia.

“She’s part of the political science family,” Sen said. “And within the discipline, everyone has been cheering Claudine on in her career ever since she first landed as an assistant professor at Stanford, in 2004. I’m very excited for the University to have a leader like Claudine. She is extremely intelligent and possesses very sound judgment.”

Harvard President Claudine Gay, (from left) and Tayana Jean Pierre, Harvard School of Public Health student.

President Gay talks with Tayana Jean Pierre, M.P.H. ‘23, in the Countway Plaza on the Harvard Medical School campus.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Hugo was excited to see his mom’s friend but also pretty pleased about the snack.

“The ice cream was really good,” he said.

David Wilkins, Lester Kissel Professor of Law, vice dean for global initiatives on the legal profession, and director, Center on the Legal Profession, has been at Harvard 37 years. He said he couldn’t be more pleased about Gay leading Harvard.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the University today and Claudine in particular, for everything that she has done and will do, especially at this moment in history. It could not be a more important time to have someone with her vision, leading this great University. And it’s, of course, partly because of who she is. But it’s also because of what her vision of education in the University,” he said, after snapping a selfie.

Sadé Abraham, senior director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, said that she thought the University had embraced a brave new world.

“Everyone’s so excited to celebrate President Gay. And it just ushers in a new chapter, a new era. We’re just really excited about what’s to come,” she said. “Her vision, her creativity, her intellect, and she’s been embedded in the heart of the community for so many years. I think she’s going to bring that with her and just further her work.”

Luis Pabon and Ceci Hsu, Ph.D. students focused on music and Romance languages respectively, joined the festivities in the Yard after leaving class.

Pabon, who is from Puerto Rico, sees the elevation of a woman of color as a harbinger.

“It just brings me so much hope that great things will come,” he said. “I’m very, very hopeful for the new presidency.”

On the edge of the boisterous party in the Yard, a small group of students chanted and held signs to protest the lack of an ethnic studies concentration.

Gay spotted them, walked over, and assured them it’s something she’s working on.

“I realize it’s slow work,” she said. “But this is what progress looks like, and it is happening,”