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UB Distinguished Speakers Series Announces 25th Anniversary Lineup

Release Date: August 3, 2011

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Michael J. Fox

Former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will open the 25th season of UB's Distinguished Speakers Series with a lecture on Sept. 21.

Judy Shepard

Soledad O'Brien

Mary Robinson

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The 25th anniversary University at Buffalo Distinguished Speakers Series once more will offer Western New York audiences a varied program of speakers on topics ranging from a decade of warfare to human rights advocacy, medical research and off-beat humor. Series subscriptions are on sale now; individual lecture tickets will be available for sale later in the month.

Series subscriptions are on sale now and tickets for individual lectures will go on sale later in the month. See ticket information below for details.

The speakers will be former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; actor, author and medical research advocate Michael J. Fox; Judy Shepard, activist, author and mother of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a notorious 1998 gay hate crime; award-winning CNN correspondent Soledad O'Brien; Ireland's former president and international human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson; and Seth MacFarlane, voice actor, singer and creator of the animated television hit series "Family Guy" and "American Dad."

All talks will begin at 8 p.m. in Alumni Arena on the UB North Campus except for those by O'Brien, who will speak at 8 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall, and Robinson, who will speak at 8 p.m. in the UB Center for the Arts, North Campus.

UB President Satish K. Tripathi says, "This year's Distinguished Speakers Series continues our proud tradition of bringing compelling and provocative thinkers to campus to inform, challenge, and inspire the way we think about the world around us.

"As it has over the past 24 years," Tripathi says, "the series will again afford our university and community a unique opportunity to engage with influential public figures representing a broad range of interests and points of view — from policy makers and public intellectuals to leading artists, journalists, and entertainers."

Dennis Black, UB vice president for university life and services, says, "This year's series will again provoke a better understanding of our world by focusing on serious international social and political issues, with a little humor to leaven the offerings. It will take us to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ireland and the European Community, and ask us to consider human rights in the broadest sense of the term."

His sentiments are echoed by JoAnna Datz, president of the UB Student Association, which has been the exclusive series' sponsor for the past 16 years. She says, "We are proud to continue our support of the Distinguished Speakers Series, and find this year's lineup a perfect blend to celebrate the past, present and future of our university."

The series will open during the inaugural week celebration for UB President Satish K. Tripathi with a Sept. 21 address by Robert M. Gates, a former university president himself, who served from 2006 until this year as the 22nd United States Secretary of Defense, a position he held under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

Gates spent 27 years as an intelligence professional, and held many major posts including those of director (1991-93) and deputy director (1986-89) of the Central Intelligence Agency. From 1989 to 1991 he served as assistant to the president and White House national security advisor in the administration of President George H.W. Bush and, for his public service, received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Security Medal.

Gates is the author of "From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War" (1996). He holds a PhD in Russian and Soviet history from Georgetown University and was the president of Texas A&M University from 2002 to 2006.

On Oct. 19 the speaker will be Michael J. Fox, popular actor, author and advocate for Parkinson's disease research. Fox has been a well-loved public figure since his starring turn on the television series "Family Ties," for which he won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.

He went on to star in a series of successful films, among them the "Back to the Future" trilogy and "Casualties of War," before returning to series' television in 1996 with "Spin City," which earned him another three Golden Globes, an Emmy, a People's Choice Award and two SAG awards.

Diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991, Fox shifted his focus and energy to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, through which he has advocated for stem cell research, raised both public awareness of the disease and more than $251 million in research funding.

He is the best-selling author of three books and has won several lifetime achievement awards for acting, a number of humanitarian awards, three honorary doctoral degrees and the 2010 National Association of Broadcasters Distinguished Service Award. In 2007 he was named one of Time magazine's 100 people "whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world" and in 2010 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Hard-driving activist and author Judy Shepard will speak Nov. 9, sponsored by the UB Division of Student Affairs. She is the author of the best-selling book, "The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed," an intimate memoir that describes how her life -- and the entire fight for human rights -- changed in 1998 when her son Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, became the victim of a vicious murder precipitated by hatred of gays.

Shepard turned that personal tragedy into a crusade for justice by establishing with her husband, Dennis, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which carries on her son's legacy and works to prevent others from falling victim to his fate.

She is largely responsible for the Matthew Shepard Act, which expanded hate crime legislation to include sexual orientation. Defeated in 2007 after President George W. Bush threatened to veto it, the bill passed in 2009 and was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Judy Shepard is actively involved with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and has urged school administrators across the country to make schools safer for gay students by promoting acceptance and diversity.

CNN television anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien, winner of the 2010 Journalist of the Year Award from the National Association of Black Journalists, will present the keynote address for the 36th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Event on Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall. The lecture is sponsored by UB's Minority Faculty and Staff Association.

O'Brien graduated from Harvard and from 1991 to 2003, worked for NBC News and its affiliates as a field producer, bureau chief, local reporter and anchor before joining CNN as anchor of American Morning, the network's popular morning news program, a position she held until 2007.

Since then O'Brien has reported breaking news throughout the world for CNN and produced several award-winning documentaries on important international issues. She also anchored "Black in America," a 2007 special that documented the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black Americans 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King.

O'Brien has received many honors for her work, including the Gracie Allen Award for her reporting on the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; the NAACP President's Award; and was the first recipient of The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Goodermote Humanitarian Award for her work in reporting on the devastating effects of Katrina and the Southeast Asian tsunami.

On March 29, Mary Robinson, president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and past UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the first woman to hold either position, will present a lecture sponsored by the UB Graduate Student Association.

As Ireland's first woman president, Robinson is widely regarded as a transformative figure who elevated her country to a new international status by revitalizing and liberalizing a previously conservative office by building bridges among those with seriously conflicting religious, social and economic points of view. Today she campaigns for worldwide democracy through her work as president of the Mary Robinson Foundation -- Climate Justice, a center for thought leadership, education and advocacy for global justice.

An honorary president of Oxfam International since 2002, Robinson also is a member of the Club of Madrid, an independent non-profit organization composed of 80 former presidents and prime ministers from 56 countries, created to promote democracy and change in the international community.

She is the founder of The Ethical Globalization Initiative, has been honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratization since 2005, chairs the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), is a founding member and chair of the Council of Women World Leaders and is one of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.

In 2005, Robinson was named one of Time magazine's top 100 men and women whose "power, talent or moral example is transforming the world," and in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her significant global contributions.

The series will conclude on April 28 with Seth MacFarlane, creator of the Emmy Award-winning FOX-TV series "Family Guy" and "American Dad." MacFarlane is the Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker, selected by the UB Undergraduate Student Association.

MacFarlane created the animated series "Family Guy," which debuted to critical raves in 1999 and won an Emmy in 2000 and 2002. He also produces "American Dad," based on yet another off-kilter family marked by political incorrectness, which has likewise generated a cult following, as does "The Cleveland Show," a spin-off of "Family Guy" that serves as a running commentary on pop culture.

He is currently directing his first full-length feature film, "Ted," about an adult male with an unusual relationship with his teddy bear, and the silky throated voiceover actor and singer has completed his first music album, "Music is Better than Words" featuring performances by himself, Norah Jones and Sara Bareilles.

The Distinguished Speakers Series benefits from the vital support of its presenting sponsor, the Don Davis Auto World Lectureship Fund, and from UB's Undergraduate Student Association, the exclusive series sponsor for the 16th consecutive year.

Other major sponsors of the series include Hodgson Russ LLP, WGRZ-TV (Channel 2), The University Bookstore, TIAA-CREF and the Health Sciences Center Chapter of United University Professions.

Series subscription order forms for the series can be downloaded at http://www.specialevents.buffalo.edu. Series subscriptions can also be purchased in person at the UB Center for the Arts Ticket Office, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Tickets for individual lectures will go on sale beginning Aug. 15 for Robert Gates, Michael J. Fox, Judy Shepard, and Seth MacFarlane at UB's Alumni Arena; Aug. 24 for Soledad O'Brien at Kleinhans Music Hall; and Aug. 24 for Mary Robinson at UB's Center for the Arts. All tickets will be available through Ticketmaster. Consigned tickets for the O'Brien lecture also will be available through the UB Center for the Arts and Alumni Arena ticket offices, beginning Aug. 29.

Visit the special events website for more details about ticketing, as well as more information on speakers and discount vouchers.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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