WASHINGTON — Karine Jean-Pierre, who grew up in Hempstead, was named White House press secretary by President Joe Biden on Thursday, becoming the first Black woman and first openly gay person in the position.
Jean-Pierre, a former star runner at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale and a graduate of the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, will replace Jen Psaki. Psaki has served as Biden’s top spokesperson since he took office in January of last year and is expected to step down May 13.
Psaki introduced her successor at Thursday’s daily briefing, calling Jean-Pierre her “partner in truth” while lauding the historic nature of the appointment.
“Representation matters and she will give a voice to many," Psaki said, "but also make many dream big about what is truly possible."
Jean-Pierre, appearing briefly with Psaki at the podium, described the day as “very emotional.”
“This is a historic moment," said Jean-Pierre, who has led dozens of press briefings and gaggles with reporters aboard Air Force One over the past year. "And it’s not lost on me."
Psaki had previously indicated she would only stay in the role for Biden’s first year, and early on in her tenure tapped Jean-Pierre, 44, to serve as principal deputy press secretary.
Psaki has not yet publicly announced her plans, but Axios previously reported that she has been in discussions to join MSNBC as a commentator and to headline a show on the network’s streaming service.
“Karine not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris Administration on behalf of the American people,” Biden said in a statement. “Jill and I have known and respected Karine a long time and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this Administration.”
Last May, Jean-Pierre became only the second Black woman to lead a White House daily press briefing. The first was Judi Smith in 1991. Smith, a deputy White House press secretary under the late Republican President George H.W. Bush, served as inspiration for Olivia Pope, a character on the popular ABC drama "Scandal," which ran for seven seasons.
The incoming White House press secretary detailed her time growing up on Long Island in her 2019 memoir “Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America."
Jean-Pierre was born to Haitian parents on the Caribbean island of Martinique. Her family eventually moved to Queens Village, before purchasing a home in Hempstead.
She attended Franklin Elementary School — which has since been renamed Joseph A. McNeil Elementary School — before her parents transferred her to Our Lady of Loretto Catholic School.
Jean-Pierre went on to attend Kellenberg, where she was a star runner on the school’s track and field and cross country teams. She also ran track and field while attending the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, where she graduated in 1997 with a bachelor of science degree in life sciences, according to the school. She then earned her master's degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
In her memoir, Jean-Pierre described the range of jobs she held before deciding on graduate school, including a stint as a Hempstead volunteer firefighter and working at the Estée Lauder plant in Melville.
Jean-Pierre also worked as a phone canvasser for the Farmingdale-based advocacy group, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and monitored the nests of piping plovers on Jones Beach to ensure they were protected as part of a CCE initiative. She served as a counselor for a project that encouraged girls to learn about the environment.
Before taking on a job as a senior adviser to Biden’s 2020 campaign, Jean-Pierre had the same title with the progressive political action committee, MoveOn.org, and often appeared on MSNBC as a political analyst.
She previously worked on both of Barack Obama's presidential campaigns and served as regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs under Obama.