Closing The Gap

New White House press secretary on following your 'passion': 'You'll be knocked down ... but the rewards are pretty amazing'

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Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a daily White House news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House October 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Karine Jean-Pierre's appointment as the first Black woman and openly gay person to become White House press secretary is a major stride in representation — and she knows it.

The press secretary role is a high-profile job. Jean-Pierre, 44, will spend every day speaking on behalf of President Joe Biden and the U.S. government to reporters, the American public and the world. During a Thursday press briefing, when her appointment was announced, Jean-Pierre reflected on what she tells college students who ask her, "How did you get to where you got to?"

Her best advice for those young people, she said: "Follow your passion. Follow what you believe in.  And just keep that focus, because that matters."

"I think if you are passionate about what you want to be or where you want to go and you work very hard to that goal, it will happen," she continued. "And, yes, you'll be knocked down and you'll have some tough times.  And it won't be easy all the time, but the rewards are pretty amazing, especially if you stay true to yourself."

Jean-Pierre, currently the White House's principal deputy press secretary, will start in her new job on May 13. She's been involved in politics for a while now: After earning a Master of Public Affairs from Columbia University in 2003, she decided to go into politics. After grad school, she worked for the New York City Council and later on John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign.

Prior to her principal deputy press secretary role, Jean-Pierre served as a senior advisor to Biden's 2020 presidential campaign before becoming Vice President Kamala Harris' chief of staff. She's familiar with the White House, having worked there under former President Barack Obama and as a long-time advisor to Biden when he was vice president.

She's also a lecturer in international and public affairs at Columbia University, and has previously spoken with young people about the challenges of working in politics under the Trump administration — particularly as a Black woman and daughter of Haitian immigrants.

In a 2018 speech at the University of Michigan, Jean-Pierre urged young people to become politically active and take a stand against leaders who support policies that harm marginalized communities.

"I am a Haitian-American. I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted to talk with you about today," she said, as reported by The Michigan Daily. "But then on Thursday, the President of the United States called the land of my ancestors, the land of my heritage, the land of my parents, an s-hole."

"If you're like me," she continued, "and you're tired of the racism, tired of the immigrant bashing, tired of the homophobia, tired of the robbery of the working class to benefit the rich, tired of no progress on climate change, police brutality or any other of the many issues, I hope you will agree with me that the time for change is now."

During her remarks on Thursday, Jean-Pierre encouraged young people to remember the people who support them during the tough times — acknowledging the efforts of trailblazers who came before her. "This is a historic moment, and it's not lost on me," she said. "I understand how important it is for so many people out there, so many different communities, that I stand on their shoulders and I have been throughout my career."

Jean-Pierre also thanked her predecessor, outgoing press secretary Jen Psaki, whom she called "a wonderful colleague, a friend, a mentor during this past year and a half," adding: "I don't think I would be here without so many people, but including her."

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