On August 11, California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris was picked by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to appear as his running mate at the top of the Democrats’ 2020 presidential ticket. Biden posted about the announcement on Twitter, writing: “I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked @KamalaHarris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate.”
Harris is known for her work as attorney general of California, a position she held from 2011 to 2017, and as U.S. Senator for California since assuming that office in January 2017. The politician received her undergraduate degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she studied political science and economics, before obtaining a law degree from the University of California, Hastings. However, a lesser-known fact about Harris is that she obtained her high school diploma in Canada, attending high school in Montreal from the age of 12 until her graduation.
Here’s what you need to know about Kamala Harris’ Canadian connection:
Harris Attended Westmount High School in Montreal, Where She Graduated in 1981
BRAVA Kamala! @JoeBiden chooses California Senator @KamalaHarris as running mate. Bigs cheers from Montreal where Harris graduated from @WestmountHigh Class of 81 (pictured: her yearbook entry) #BidenHarris2020 pic.twitter.com/wf2A0kGU5G
— Richard Burnett (@bugsburnett) August 11, 2020
The 55-year-old U.S. senator spent a significant amount of time in Quebec during her formative years. The daughter of India-born scientist and breast cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan Harris and Jamaican-born economics professor Donald Harris, she was raised in Berkeley, California. Her parents split when she was young, and at the age of 12, her mother got a research job at the Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, the Star reported.
They moved to Westmount, a wealthy English-speaking suburb of Montreal, where Harris attended Westmount High School. She studied there until her graduation in 1981, at which point she returned to the U.S. Harris hasn’t spoken about her experiences in Canada very often, dedicating only a handful of pages to that period in her memoir. The Montreal Gazette reported that she wrote, “I used to joke that I felt like a duck, because all day long at our new school I’d be saying, ‘Quoi? Quoi? Quoi?’,” referring to the French word for “what.”
Former Canadian diplomat Norman Spector mused about her time in Quebec, posting, “What we need to know now is what memories–good and/or bad–Kamala Harris harbours of Montréal, Québec and Canada having lived among us and having attended Westmount High School.”
Her Classmates Said She Was Very Involved in Activism & Was a Popular, Cheerful Student
Harris’ sister Maya, who attended the same high school, said that Harris was an activist even at the age of 13 in Quebec. She told the San Francisco Chronicle a story about Harris successfully organizing a children’s protest against a policy preventing kids from playing in the yard at their apartment complex. “It was only a matter of time before we were playing soccer,” Maya said.
In December 2018, when Harris was considering running for president, her high school classmates spoke to the Star about their memories of her. The outlet reported that Harris lost touch with most of her classmates when she moved back to the U.S. for university. Many of them said she was a confident and cheerful teenager who “gave off an aura suggesting she was poised for success,” according to Paul Olioff. Another classmate, Hugh Kwok, said, “She was a sweet, kind person. Very happy, very social. I’m just very excited for her, if that’s what she wants to do with her life.”
Eyal Dattel, who was in Harris’ drama class, said she was “always a truly nice person.” At the time, the Star reached out to Harris’ team about her time in Montreal and received the following statement: “While my sister Maya and I made great friends and even learned some French, we were happy to return home to California. One of the women’s auxiliary groups at the hospital my mother worked at ended up inspiring me to help create an auxiliary group at the Highland Hospital in Oakland later in life,” she said.