When the Barnard community assembled on February 2 for the Inauguration of the College’s ninth president, Laura Rosenbury, they heard an introduction from Nalini Kotamraju, senior vice president of the business software company, Salesforce. For many on campus, it was not the first mention of her name. She was President Rosenbury’s first-year college roommate and remains a close friend — their relationship is so special that in President Rosenbury’s first remarks to the College community following the announcement that she would lead Barnard, as well as during New Student Orientation (NSOP) and at Barnard’s 2023 Convocation ceremony — she referred to her experiences as a student at Harvard-Radcliffe University and made mention of Kotamraju.

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Nalini Kotamraju and President Laura Rosenbury during their first year at college.

“I learned right before I arrived at college that my new roommate came from a very worldly background. She had roots in India, Curaçao, Amsterdam, and Chicago,” said President Rosenbury during her Convocation remarks. “My roots, I’m from a small farming town in Indiana. We could not have been more different. Yet there we were in that tiny dorm room. I certainly didn’t realize at the time that 35 years later, I’m lucky to call Nalini my best friend.”

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Kotamraju speaking at the inauguration of President Rosenbury on February 2.
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President Rosenbury and Kotamraju at Riverside Church on February 2.

“I am here,” said Kotamraju in her remarks at Inauguration, “because I had the very good fortune to be randomly assigned to be Laura’s roommate during our very first year at Harvard. This is why I stand before you. During our undergraduate years, I built the strongest of friendships. Laura is my chosen family.” She went on to share her first impressions of President Rosenbury, remarking on her profound kindness and joking about her “inexplicable beverage choices,” which included “gross beyond belief” Tab (a now discontinued sugar-free diet soda).

“The one lesson I’d share is to nurture the relationships that matter in your life,” Kotamraju said, reflecting on her long friendship with President Rosenbury. “We talk about building friendships because it is a shared experience, and Laura and I have done that together. Our relationship [began] our first day in our dorm room, with both of us starting from an open-hearted place of wanting to connect. Our friendship, on the other hand, was something we built over time — the good, the bad, the ugly times in our lives.”

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President Rosenbury and Kotamraju, with friends, on graduation day.

Kotamraju said no pivotal moment defined the strength of their bond; it all comes down to showing up for each other. “It’s the actual act of being there that I think is a very key feature, like when someone is sick, like when I attended her law school graduation, like when my mother passed away, how she was living in Amsterdam and flew out to spend a week with me,” said Kotamraju.

President Rosenbury believes that sharing the story of their tight bond with students helps to confirm that their experience at Barnard is a time for growing and widening their perspectives on the world. It’s also a time to forge enduring connections, which is something that many students on campus have done and alumnae take great pride in.

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“College students have many competing demands on their time,” said Kotamraju, “but college is also a unique opportunity in the life cycle to prioritize rich and diverse relationships.”

“We have students coming from all over — 43 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and 35 countries,” said President Rosenbury. “There is a real opportunity to engage with different ideas but also to meet people who are radically different from who you are.”

President Rosenbery and Kotamraju seized this opportunity, beginning in that dorm room at Harvard, and both say they are grateful for it.

“What I think was amazing about the inauguration is that it was a chance for the larger audience, for the Barnard community, the academic community, the New York community, all the communities that Barnard extends to see how great she really is,” said Kotamraju. “It’s something I already knew.”