Alumni News

Karine Jean-Pierre MPA ’03—“Don’t Lose the Idealism That You Have

Posted Nov 10 2022
Karine Jean-Pierre MPA '03

Born in Martinique, Jean-Pierre emigrated to the United States from Haiti at age 5 and landed in Queens, NY as the eldest child of two working-class immigrants. 

“Growing up in an immigrant household, it’s very specific. My parents told me I could be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer,” she said in a 2019 visit to SIPA. “And doctor was really what they were pushing for.”

Jean-Pierre followed a different path, starting at SIPA the same week as the 9/11 attacks in New York and pursuing a career in politics thanks to mentorship from SIPA professors Ester Fuchs and the late David N. Dinkins. 

Her career path included stints in the Obama administration, as a MoveOn spokesperson, and an MSNBC analyst and memoirist. It’s her groundbreaking role as White House press secretary in the Biden-Harris administration that has made Jean-Pierre a household name. She is the first Black person and the first openly LGBT person to serve in the position. 

“I wouldn't have gone into politics if it wasn't for SIPA. I got to give one of the speeches at the graduation and I talked about idealism and I talked about how when you're young, you're going through school, you want to make the world a better place. And you get into the workplace and things are hard. You get knocked down, and my message was ‘don't lose the idealism that you have.’”