Swarthmore College has inaugurated its first African-American president, Dr. Valerie Smith, whose scholarship and academic career has focused on building and sustaining diverse, inclusive and global learning environments.

“I was moved to know that many people find this moment as a source of inspiration,” says Smith after the inauguration festivities. “Several people remarked both during the ceremony and privately how much it meant to them personally and symbolically that Swarthmore had appointed its first African-American president, but I recognize that I am in this position because of the sacrifices of many people — the trailblazers who really sacrificed to pave the way for people like myself.”

Smith comes from Princeton University, where she served as dean and chaired a committee studying the academic and cultural experiences of low-income and first-generation students. She plans on continuing such work at Swarthmore, listing access and affordability, recruiting a diverse student population across all majors and providing students the support they need once they enter into the school as key concerns.

“I’m the child of educators, and my family placed a strong emphasis on learning both from books and the world around us,” says the Brooklyn native. “I had wonderful teachers throughout my life that encouraged me and had such an impact on me — it seemed almost inevitable that I would find my way here.”