Spring 2018 Commencement Speakers

American University will conduct six commencement exercises this spring, each featuring a speaker who will receive an honorary degree from the university.

Anthony S. Fauci, MD

Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

Receiving an honorary Doctor of Science degree

Dr. Fauci was appointed Director of NIAID in 1984. He oversees an extensive portfolio of basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat established infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and malaria as well as emerging diseases such as Ebola and Zika. NIAID also supports research on transplantation and immune-related illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies. The NIAID budget for fiscal year 2017 was approximately $4.9 billion.

Dr. Fauci has advised five Presidents on HIV/AIDS and many other domestic and global health issues. In a 2017 analysis of Google Scholar citations, Dr. Fauci ranked as the 24th most highly cited researcher of all time.

Dr. Fauci has delivered major lectures all over the world and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest honor given to a civilian by the President of the United States) and the National Medal of Science. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than 1,300 scientific publications, including several textbooks.

Jeffrey Zients

Economic Strategy Group Member, The Aspen Institute and Former Director, National Economic Council

Receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree

Jeffrey Zients was President Obama's principal economic policy advisor as Director of the National Economic Council (2014 - 2017). Jeff also served in the Obama Administration in the Office of Management and Budget as Acting Director (2012 - 2013), and Deputy Director, Management and Federal Chief Performance Officer (2009 - 2011). During his time in the Administration, Jeff was directed by President Obama to spearhead the turnaround of the failed healthcare.gov website launch (2013). He founded and managed a private equity firm, Portfolio Logic, LLC (2003 - 2009) and served as Executive Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and other roles with the Advisory Board Company and Corporate Executive Board (1992 - 2003). He graduated summa cum laude from Duke University.

Michael W. Kempner, SPA/BS '81

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, MWWPR

Receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

Michael Kempner is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MWWPR, one of the nation’s largest independent public relations firms. He is a nationally recognized authority on reputation management, crisis management, public affairs, business to business, consumer marketing and corporate social responsibility, and has counseled some of the world’s most prominent executives, organizations and companies. Michael is known for his candor, commitment to community service and personal attention to client needs. He is an author and speaker on a variety of public relations, management, entrepreneurship and marketing issues.

Michael has been honored with several of the industry’s highest accolades, including PR Week’s PR Professional of the Year in 2015 and 2010. Additional awards and recognitions include the PR Executive of the Year Award from the International Business Awards in 2014, 2013 and 2012; Grand Prize for Communications Professional of the Year from the 2013 and 2012 Bulldog Stars of PR Awards; Alumni Recognition Award from American University for 2013; PR Executive of the Year by the 2013 and 2012 American Business Awards. PR News also named Michael Agency Leader of the Year in 2013 and CSR Professional of the Year in 2012, and he was inducted into the PR News Hall of Fame in 2009.

An active member of his community, Michael was appointed by President Obama to the White House Council for Community Solutions. He was also appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a Governor of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In this position, he helps direct all U.S. international media including the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcast Network and Radio Free Asia.

In January 2018, Michael was elected the Chairman of the Board of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. He is also a current member of the Fulbright-Canada Scholarship Board and is a founding Board Member of ConnectOne Bank, one of the nation’s most successful community banks (NASDAQ: CNOB). Michael is a board member of the New DEAL Leaders and the New York Coalition for the Homeless. He is also active in progressive politics and issues, having played major roles in the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton.

Michael holds a B.S. from the School of Public Affairs at The American University, where he serves as a member of the School of Communications Dean’s Advisory Council.

Leymah Gbowee

Liberian Peace Activist & Women's Rights Advocate

Receiving an honorary Doctor of International Affairs degree

2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist, social worker and women's rights advocate. She is Founder and President of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, based in Monrovia.

Leymah is best known for leading a nonviolent movement that brought together Christian and Muslim women to play a pivotal role in ending Liberia's devastating, fourteen-year civil war in 2003. This historic achievement paved the way for the election of Africa's first female head of state, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It also marked the vanguard of a new wave of women emerging worldwide as essential and uniquely effective participants in brokering lasting peace and security.

Leymah's story as told in the 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell and her 2011 memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers - as well as her lectures and discussions with groups large and small - have engaged, inspired and motivated untold numbers of people worldwide.

In February 2012, Leymah Gbowee launched a new nonprofit organization, the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa (GPFA), in Monrovia, Liberia, which provides educational and leadership development opportunities for women, girls and youth. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Nobel Women's Initiative, Gbowee Peace Foundation and the PeaceJam Foundation, and she is a member of the African Women Leaders Network for Reproductive Health and Family Planning.

She holds a M.A. in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, VA). She has received several honorary degrees.

Robert Costa

Moderator, Washington Week and National Political Reporter, The Washington Post

Receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree

Robert Costa is the Moderator of Washington Week, the Peabody Award-winning weekly news analysis series on PBS. Costa is also a full-time national political reporter for The Washington Post, where he covers Congress and the White House and regularly travels the country to meet with voters and elected officials.

At Washington Week, Costa oversees the weekly roundtable discussion of journalists on the program, which broadcasts live each Friday at 8 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide and on digital content platforms. In addition to his moderating duties, Costa files social media reports during the week on behalf of Washington Week, expanding its digital footprint and engaging with viewers.

Costa joined Washington Week in April 2017 with nearly a decade of reporting experience that began with granular coverage of movement politics and Congress and later the battle over health-care policy and the 2010 mid-term elections.

Prior to joining The Washington Post in January 2014, Costa was a reporter and then Washington Editor for National Review, directing a team of reporters and where his reporting on the 2013 U.S. federal government shutdown earned acclaim.

Costa earned a master's degree in 2009 from the University of Cambridge, where he studied Winston Churchill and was an active member of the Cambridge Union debating society. A year earlier, he earned a bachelor's degree in American Studies from the University of Notre Dame, where he is on the advisory committee of the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy. He served as a member of Notre Dame's board of trustees from 2014 to 2017.

Vanita Gupta

President and Chief Executive Officer, The Leadership Conference

Receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree

Vanita Gupta is an experienced leader and litigator who has devoted her entire career to civil rights work. Most recently, from October 15, 2014, to January 20, 2017, she served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. Appointed by President Barack Obama as the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta oversaw a wide range of criminal and civil enforcement efforts to ensure equal justice and protect equal opportunity for all during one of the most consequential periods for the division.

Under Gupta's leadership, the division did critical work in a number of areas, including advancing constitutional policing and criminal justice reform; prosecuting hate crimes and human trafficking; promoting disability rights; protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals; ensuring voting rights for all; and combating discrimination in education, housing, employment, lending, and religious exercise.

Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as Deputy Legal Director and the Director of the Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She began her legal career as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.

Gupta graduated magna cum laude from Yale University and received her law degree from New York University School of Law.

Learn more about the WCL Commencement.