INAUGURATION  - HARRIS OATH - AP 1-20-2021.jpeg
Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as her husband Doug Emhoff holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.(Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Nissi Tatason, a sixth-grade student at Grace M. James Academy of Excellence, saw herself in Vice President Kamala Harris as she prepared to take the oath of office Wednesday.

For her and dozens of other students who watched Harris become the first female and the first person of Black and Asian ancestry to ascend to the vice presidency, it was a mixture of awe and inspiration.

“I can get that high, and I can achieve those things that she’s achieving,” Tatason said. “I was proud of her and kind of excited for myself, too.”

Eighty-nine students joined teachers and staff at the Grace James Academy online to watch the historic inauguration of Harris, who broke gender and racial barriers in ascending to the vice presidency.

Those who watched from the Grace James Academy — a school in its first year tailored for young women interested in science, technology, engineering, arts and math with an Afrocentric curriculum — wore their purple lab coats for the occasion. Harris and former first lady Michelle Obama were among those wearing purple Wednesday in honor of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968.

Principal Ronda Cosby said the coats are part of the school’s unofficial uniform and are normally worn on Wednesdays.

“The lab coats symbolize our future,” she said. “... Our girls know that the lab coat signifies who you are as a Grace James Gem.”

Students who spoke to WDRB News after watching the presidential inauguration, all of them in sixth grade, have lofty career aspirations.

Claudia Garcia, for instance, said she wants to be a doctor or a veterinarian to help those suffering through disease. Tatason said she has always been drawn to “fighting for people’s rights and fighting for people in general” and hopes to be “a big, big, big activist” one day. Caleigh Thomas has her eyes on track and field stardom and entrepreneurship. D'Asia Brown wants to explore multiple interests in her life, listing jobs like lawyer, hairstylist and nail technician as possible career paths.

“I’d like to be a pediatrician, because not only will I be helping people, but I will be adding to the STEAM field that is not filled with a bunch of women like me," Kimani Bussey said. "And that’s really important to me, because when you go into a doctor’s office, you don’t really see girls that look like you or doctors that look like you

“I want girls to come to my office to see a woman like me and a person they can relate to.”

Seeing a Black woman climb to the highest rungs of the political ladder have made career goals seemingly more attainable for several students who spoke to WDRB News. Seventy-seven percent of students at the Grace James Academy are Black, according to Jefferson County Public Schools enrollment data.

“I feel that I can be a lot more powerful and that she’s setting a bar real high, and I hope to reach that bar,” Brown said. “... I felt really proud for her, like one day I could be the first of something like her.”

“She made me powerful,” DeaJan’ae Seargent said. “She made me think that I can do more stuff than people want me to be like. We are more than what we think we are.”

Grace James Academy Assistant Principal Melanie Page said the school would be “remiss” if it did not make Harris’s path the vice presidency a teachable moment for current and future Gems.

The school, she said, “was built for the very purpose that Kamala Harris exists.” Students spent Wednesday morning discussing the academy’s key values and reflecting on what’s expected of Grace James students, she said.

“They were realizing that these expectations we have are just building a bridge to where they can go,” Page said.

“We hope that they also will provide teachable moments for us, too, because honestly the things that were said today in the sessions that we capitalized off of, I learned. I learned so much ... We have some bright young girls whose futures are going to be limitless.”

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