G. Gabrielle Star officially became the 10th president of Pomona College at her inauguration ceremony Saturday, making her the school’s first female and first African-American president.
The ceremony, which was held in Bridges Auditorium, featured a variety of speeches by Pomona community members, Claremont Mayor Larry Schroeder, a pair of Starr’s colleagues and mentors, and Starr herself, among others. An audience of about 2,000 people came to watch the ceremony.
“I’m really proud,” Starr said in an interview with TSL after the ceremony. “It’s a great time to be a Sagehen and it’s a great privilege to be here.”
So far, Starr’s tenure as president is earning stellar reviews from much of the Pomona community.
“President Starr is off to a terrific start. She embodies everything Pomona is and [what] we want it to be. I’m delighted to welcome her to the family,” Board of Trustees Chairman Sam Glick PO ’04 said.
Senior class president Sophia Sun PO ’18, who delivered a speech on behalf of the student body during the ceremony, was similarly complimentary.
“In interacting [with] ASPC meetings, it is very clear she is up to date about what students are concerned about and addressing it. I’m very hopeful for the many years ahead,” Sun told TSL. “I’m very impressed with how quickly she got to know parts of campus and the unique priorities of students.”
In her address at the ceremony, Starr spoke about the positives and negatives of Pomona’s past, the potential for its future, and her own personal family history.
“What we must yield is respect and walk a humble path, recalling we are on the paths we walk because others have stepped before us, and let us choose our own steps wisely, as we seek our Pomona together,” she said.
Starr hopes to ensure all Pomona students can succeed by prioritizing access, equity, and inclusion, while acknowledging each student’s unique background and history.
“We must make this a place where everyone has the tools to thrive,” Starr said. “We at Pomona insist that success must be undetermined by who we are. … Coming here must mean we can achieve what is truly great.”
Emory University professor Dalia Judovitz, who served as Starr’s professor, thesis advisor, and supervisor when she attended Emory, praised Starr’s spirit.
“Remarkable for someone who started college at 16 was Gabi’s fully formed personality, maturity, and integrity, manifest in her wisdom and her self-discipline,” Judovitz said, in a speech that brought Starr to tears. “Gabi has sought to impart this creative capacity to those around her and the world at large.”
The ceremony’s audience included delegates from dozens of colleges and universities nationwide, several of them Pomona alumni.
“It was amazing,” said Robert Ellis PO ’77, a delegate from Occidental College. “I loved the inclusiveness of her speech.”
The ceremony, which capped a week-long inaugural celebration, was accompanied by a symposium featuring presentations by select faculty and students. The symposium covered a wide range of issues, from a presentation about climate change and its impacts on various parts of the world to a performance demonstrating mathematical systems through dance.
“I’m very thankful and appreciate the chance to speak to students and alumni,” John Ernst PO ’18 said. Ernst, with Dominic Mensah PO ’20, delivered a speech on Teach, Mentor, and Transform, an organization they started last year to help Ghanain children from rural villages access education.
Professor Lynne Miyake, who spoke about Japanese art – particularly manga comics – praised her colleagues and Pomona alumni for coming to the symposium to expand their fields of knowledge.
“I’m thrilled that our alumni and faculty from other areas really want to learn again,” she said. “I’m impressed that they wanted to come and take interest in subjects that are unrelated to their own.”
The audience response to the talks was similarly positive.
“I really appreciated the diversity of perspective – with respect to age, profession, ethnicity, and gender. Everyone brought a something new to the table,” Michelle Cataldo PO ’89 said of a presentation by students and professors on the role of monuments, which was inspired by recent debates about statues honoring Confederate soldiers.