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Who’s Who of 2022: AU Hosted Myriad Speakers, from Actors to Advocates

The university welcomed dozens of high-profile speakers, including at least nine current members of Congress, three presidential cabinet secretaries, two mayors, two former presidential chiefs of staff, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and an Olympic medalist.

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US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited AU in April for a speech on digital assets and cryptocurrency.

Learning from leaders is a hallmark of an AU education, and last year the university welcomed dozens of high-profile speakers, including at least nine current members of Congress, three presidential cabinet secretaries, two mayors, two former presidential chiefs of staff, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and an Olympic medalist. Here are some of the changemakers who connected with the AU community in 2022: 


The Sine Institute of Politics and Policy—funded by a $10 million gift to AU’s Change Can’t Wait campaign—launched its 2022 season with a national security seminar led by fellow Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security and former foreign policy advisor to the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Former US secretary of housing and urban development and presidential candidate Julian Castro and gun violence prevention advocate Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, also kicked off their programs in January, while former representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA), journalist and Race Card Project founding director Michele Norris, and National Wildlife Federation executive vice president Mustafa Santiago Ali continued with seminars throughout the spring semester. 


Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose 1619 Project for the New York Times put under a microscope America’s founding and the nation’s legacy of slavery, told students on February 28: “Slavery and freedom were born at the same time here, but we only want to talk about one as being foundational to American identity—but you don’t get 1776 without 1619.” Other February speakers included: 

  • Gretchen Carlson, journalist, and Julie Roginsky, Democratic strategist and commentator, founders of Lift Our Voices 

  • Monica Lewinsky, activist 

  • Representative Mondaire Jones (D-NY) 

  • Representative Lucy McBath (D-GA) 

  • Representative Marie Newman (D-IL) 

  • Tom Donilon, former national security advisor to President Obama 

  • Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Foundation 

  • Fredrika Newton, president and cofounder of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation 


HUD secretary Marcia Fudge for a chat on how to solve America’s housing crisis in the age of COVID-19. Rounding out the month: 

  • Ertharin Cousin, former executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme 

  • Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI) 

  • Rainn Wilson, actor (The Office) 

  • Antonique Smith, actor (Notorious, Genius) 

  • Tim Guinee, actor (Homeland, Iron Man) 

  • Jennifer McClellan, Democratic Virginia state senator and US House candidate 

  • Ruth Marcus, columnist for the Washington Post 

  • Maria Walsh, member of European Parliament and LGBTQI rights activist 

  • San Diego mayor Todd Gloria 

  • Glenn Fine, former Justice Department inspector general 

  • Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee 


US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen made a landmark speech at AU’s Center for Innovation, delivering the administration’s first public comments on digital assets and cryptocurrency following President Biden’s March 9 executive order on the changing technologies. Also this month:  

  • Representative Jim McGovern, CAS/BA ’81, SPA/MPA ’84, (D-MA) 

  • Sam Brownback, former Republican senator and former governor of Kansas 

  • Jonah Goldberg, conservative commentator 

  • Kal Penn, actor, author, and former White House staffer 

  • House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) 

  • Chase Iron Eyes, Native American rights activist and member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe 

  • Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) 

  • Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League 

  • Valerie Biden Owens, senior advisor to the 2020 Biden presidential campaign 

  • Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) 


Two Eagles, economist and author Dambisa Moyo, CAS/BS ’91, Kogod/MBA ’92, and White House correspondent Ed O’Keefe, SPA/BA ’05, joined an impressive lineup of spring commencement speakers, including NFL broadcaster James Brown, World Trade Organization director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, White House climate advisor Gina McCarthy, political strategist and MSNBC host Symone Sanders, and US deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco. Also in May: 

  • Catherine Coleman Flowers, environmental health researcher 

  • Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever 

  • Daniel Mulhall, former Irish ambassador to the US 

  • Steven Levitzky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die 

  • Alisyn Camerota, SOC/BA ’88, CNN journalist and host 

  • Valerie Guarnieri, SIS/MA ’96, deputy executive director for programme and policy development for the United Nations’ World Food Programme 


Jamie Erdahl, SOC/BA ’11, host of the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, anchored CBS Sports’ Title IX special, We Need to Talk. Panelists included Emilie Deutsch, CBS Sports’ vice president for original programming, and former Olympic gold medalist swimmer Summer Sanders. Other speakers this month: 

  • Jonathan Martin, New York Times reporter 

  • Andy Slavitt, former senior advisor to the Biden administration’s COVID response team 


SOC journalism professor Bill Gentile hosted a discussion with former US ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor about the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the idea of just wars. Also this month: 

  • Former representative Will Hurd (R-TX) 


US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joined the producer of Tipping the Pain Scale on August 31 for a screening of the film at the Greenberg Theater and a discussion about America’s addiction crisis. Rounding out August: 

  • Bill Kristol, conservative columnist 

  • Katherine Miller, vice president of impact at the James Beard Foundation 

  • Janet Rodriguez, BA/SOC ’06, former White House correspondent for Univision 


One week after Patagonia founder Yvon Chouniard announced he was giving away his outdoor apparel company to help fight climate change, CEO Ryan Gellert, Sine’s distinguished lecturer, discussed the trailblazing decision. “At the end of the day, there’s two things we want to accomplish: protecting the integrity of Patagonia as a model of a different way of [doing] business and putting a lot more money [into fighting the] environmental crisis right now. That led us to ultimately create something I don’t think has been done before in US business.” Also this month: 

  • Seung Min Kim, MA/SOC ’09, Associated Press and CNN reporter 

  • Liliana Ayalde, former US ambassador to Brazil 

  • Cleveland mayor Justin Bibb, BA/SPA ’09 

  • Laila Lalami, author  


Thought leaders convened on campus during family weekend for Conversations on Policy, Politics, and our American Democracy. Panelists included former Obama chief speechwriter Cody Keenan, reporters Jonathan Martin and Zolan Kanno-Youngs of the New York Times and Politico’s Anita Kumar, and former presidential chiefs of staff Joshua Bolten (George W. Bush) and John Podesta (Bill Clinton). Other speakers this month included: 

  • Ali Vitali, NBC News correspondent 

  • Maxine Burkett, deputy assistant secretary for oceans, fisheries, and polar affairs at the US State Department 

  • Kaitlin Collins, CNN journalist and host 

  • Kristen Welker, NBC News journalist and host 

  • Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker  

  • Diane Guerrero, author and actor (Encanto, Orange Is the New Black) 

  • Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn and Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges, who testified before the House January 6 Committee 


Following her historic election as the first woman secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union, Doreen Bodgan-Martin, AU/SIS ’90, the inaugural recipient of AU’s Inclusive Technology Policy Changemaker Award, presented the 2022 honor to Pamela Wright, chief innovation officer of the National Archives. Also in November: 

  • Jonah Goldberg, conservative pundit 

  • Adama Dieng, former United Nations under-secretary-general and special adviser on the prevention of genocide 


Groundbreaking TIAA CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett closed the academic year and told students to stay intellectually curious and embrace authenticity. “By staying open, there may be a moment yet to come that will help you find your purpose. And it will be up to you to recognize the importance of that moment, or you may miss it.”   

And wrapping up the year: 

  • Wendy Sherman, US deputy secretary of state 

  • Stefano Sannino, secretary generation of the European External Action Service  

  • Yiyun Li, novelist and winner of the PEN/Malamud Award