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2016-2017 Season Speakers

From astronauts and actors to a former U.S. attorney general, we’re proud to bring world-renowned speakers to UB for the 30th anniversary of the Distinguished Speaker Series. As we open our doors to the community, we hope you’ll join us for thought-provoking discussions, inspirational stories, and life-changing events you won’t find anywhere else.

This Season:

Captain Mark Kelly

Captain Scott Kelly

Captains Mark & Scott Kelly | Sept. 22, 2016

Mark Kelly, Commander of the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s Final Mission and Retired U.S. Navy Captain

About Captain Mark Kelly

Already an experienced aviator and retired U.S. Navy Captain, Mark Kelly began his career as an astronaut in 1996. During his illustrious career with NASA, he spent more than 50 days in space and commanded both the Space Shuttle Endeavour, including its final flight in May 2011, and Space Shuttle Discovery, and is one of only two individuals who have visited the International Space Station on four different occasions.

Mark Kelly is also a #1 New York Times best-selling author and a founder of World View Enterprises, a company pioneering a new frontier at the edge of space.

In January 2011, Mark Kelly became the center of international attention after the assassination attempt on his wife, former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Their story captivated the nation and resulted in the couple becoming an unequivocal symbol of strength and perseverance.

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Scott Kelly, History-Making Astronaut and Retired U.S. Navy Captain

About Captain Scott Kelly

Back from his historic record-breaking "Year In Space," NASA astronaut Captain Scott Kelly has laid the groundwork for the future of space travel and exploration.

An astronaut since 1996, Scott Kelly’s achievements over his illustrious 20-year career with NASA earned him the coveted position as America’s first year-round astronaut. On his historic mission that spanned from March 2015 to March 2016, Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko conducted experiments, reconfigured station modules, and captivated the world with live interviews and never-seen-before photos from the International Space Station.

The historic mission also included NASA’s groundbreaking Twins Study, in which Scott Kelly’s identical twin brother, retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly served on the ground as a control model in an unprecedented experiment to understand how space affects the human body.

Prior to his career with NASA, Scott Kelly served 25 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring as an experienced aviator and decorated Captain.

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Lecture Sponsor(s)

Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016 at 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

Randi Zuckerberg

Randi Zuckerberg | Oct. 26, 2016

Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media; Former Director of Marketing at Facebook

More About Randi Zuckerberg

Randi Zuckerberg believes in being a three-dimensional woman of many titles. She is the Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, a boutique marketing firm and production company. Prior to founding her own company, Zuckerberg worked at Facebook, where she created and ran the social media pioneer’s marketing programs from 2005-11.

She is the author of two books: “Dot Complicated,” a New York Times best-seller, discusses Zuckerberg’s personal journey on the front lines of Facebook and her thoughts on how technology is changing our lives. The book inspired a weekly business radio show “Dot Complicated with Randi Zuckerberg” on SiriusXM. “Dot,” a children’s picture book, features an energetic, techy girl. In collaboration with Jim Henson Productions, “Dot” will air as an animated children’s TV show on NBC Sprout this September.

Zuckerberg is a television host and producer. In 2011, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her innovative blend of online/TV coverage of the U.S. elections. In 2012, she executive produced a docuseries on Bravo about Silicon Valley’s startup culture, and you can currently see her starring in “Quit Your Day Job” on NBC’s Oxygen, where she mentors and invests in entrepreneurs. She also regularly appears on “The Today Show.”

In her spare time, you will find Zuckerberg at the theater. A lifelong theater lover, she starred in “Rock of Ages” on Broadway for a 30-show run in 2014. Zuckerberg is a TONY Awards voter and serves on the American Theatre Wing’s tech advisory committee.

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Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016 at 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB North Campus

John Cleese

John Cleese | Dec. 9, 2016

Famed Film and Television Comic Actor

More About John Cleese

With the legendary “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” “Fawlty Towers” and “A Fish Called Wanda,” John Cleese created a unique comedic style that has inspired countless writers and comedians. “The world’s funniest man” first made his mark as a member of the legendary Monty Python troupe in the 1960s, and has gone on to write, produce, direct and star in some of the greatest comedic hits of the last forty years, even receiving an Oscar nomination for best screenplay for “A Fish Called Wanda.”

But Cleese is far from your garden variety entertainer. From the beginning of his career he has continually parlayed his enormous talents into advancing the political causes he believes in (he is a vocal supporter of the UK’s Labour Party); promoting education (a former Rector of the University of St. Andrews, he served as a professor-at-large at Cornell University from 1991 through 2006); and teaching business skills. Cleese is the founder of Video Arts, the world’s largest provider of business training programs. Established in 1972 with three fellow British actors, Video Arts gained an international reputation as the premier source for business know-how. Cleese attributes his success at making hit training programs to his fascination with psychology and his love for teaching and making people laugh.

In Fall 2014, Cleese released his New York Times best-selling memoir, “So Anyway….” The book shares his ascent in the entertainment world, from his humble beginnings in a sleepy English town and his early comedic days at Cambridge University (with future Python partner Graham Chapman), to the founding of the landmark comedy troupe that would propel him to worldwide renown.

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An Evening with John Cleese
Friday, Dec. 9, 2016
at 7 p.m. AND 9:30 p.m.
Center for the Arts, UB North Campus

Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Eric H. Holder, Jr. | Feb. 16, 2017

82nd Attorney General of the United States (2009-15)
UB's 41st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Keynote Speaker

More About Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Eric H. Holder, Jr. was born in New York City and attended public schools there, graduating from Stuyvesant High School, before earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in American History from Columbia College in 1973 and a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia Law School in 1976.

Upon his graduation from law school, Holder joined the Department of Justice through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. He was assigned to the newly formed Public Integrity Section, where he investigated and prosecuted corruption involving officials in local, state and federal government. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan appointed Holder to serve as an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where he presided over hundreds of criminal and civil trials during his five years on the bench. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Holder to serve as the United States attorney for the District of Columbia. In 1997, President Clinton appointed Holder to serve as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, a position that he held until the end of the Clinton Administration. He was the first African-American to serve as Deputy Attorney General and United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. At the request of President George W. Bush, Holder served as Acting Attorney General in 2001 pending the confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft.

In July 2001, Holder joined the Washington, D.C., law firm of Covington & Burling as a partner in the firm’s litigation practice group, where he represented clients in complex civil and criminal cases as well as internal corporate investigations.

President Barack Obama nominated Holder to be Attorney General and the United States Senate confirmed his nomination on February 2, 2009. Holder began his service as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States the following day. He was the first African-American to serve in that position. He remained in office until April 27, 2015, becoming the third-longest-serving Attorney General in the nation’s history.

While Attorney General, Holder oversaw the government’s efforts to address many critically important issues arising at the intersection of law and public policy, including national security investigations and prosecutions; landmark antitrust, environmental, fraud and tax cases; the defense of voting rights and marriage equality; and reform of the federal criminal justice system. In 2014, TIME magazine named Holder to its list of “100 Most Influential People,” stating that he “worked tirelessly to ensure equal justice.”

After his departure from the Department of Justice, Holder returned to Covington & Burling and is resident in their Washington office. He focuses on complex litigation and investigatory matters that are international in scope and raise significant enforcement issues and substantial reputational concerns.

Holder’s many civic commitments have included service on the boards of Columbia University, the National Center for Victims of Crime, the Meyer Foundation and the Save the Children Foundation, among many others. He also served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission Ad Hoc Advisory Group.

Holder has received numerous awards and honorary degrees in recognition of his professional and civic contributions, including the NAACP Chairman’s Award, the Department of Justice’s John F. Keeney Award, the District of Columbia Bar Association’s Beatrice Rosenberg Award, George Washington University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Medal for Outstanding Service in Human Rights, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights’ Robert F. Kennedy Justice Prize. The District of Columbia Bar Association has recognized Holder as its “Lawyer of the Year,” and in 2008, the Legal Times named him as one of the “Greatest Washington Lawyers of the Past 30 Years.”

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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 at 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB North Campus

Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay | RESCHEDULED TO: April 13, 2017

Best-Selling Author, Cultural Critic and Professor
Graduate Student Choice Speaker

More About Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is an author and cultural critic whose writing is unmatched and widely revered. Her work garners international acclaim for its reflective, no-holds-barred exploration of feminism and social criticism. With a deft eye on modern culture, she brilliantly critiques its ebb and flow with both wit and ferocity.

Words like “courage,” “humor,” and “smart” are frequently deployed when describing Gay. Her collection of essays, “Bad Feminist,” was a New York Times best-seller and is universally considered the quintessential exploration of modern feminism. NPR named it one of the best books of the year and Salon declared the book “trailblazing.” Her powerful debut novel, "An Untamed State," was long listed for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Her newest collection of stories, "Difficult Women," was released earlier this year and her painstaking examination of body image, “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,” is due out in June.

Gay is a contributing op-ed writer for The New York Times. She was a founding editor of PANK and non-fiction editor at The Rumpus. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’s, The Nation and many other publications.

Gay is an associate professor of English at Purdue University.

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NEW DATE: Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 8 p.m.
NEW VENUE: Center for the Arts, UB North Campus

Brandon Stanton

Brandon Stanton (REPLACING James Franco) | April 29, 2017

For further details on ticketing for this event, please see our ticket page.

Photographer, Author and Creator of Humans of New York (HONY)
Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker

More About Brandon Stanton

As the founder of the street portrait blog, Humans of New York (HONY), Brandon Stanton is referred to as a worldwide Internet phenomenon and one of today’s most influential storytellers. HONY has amassed over 17.7 million followers on Facebook and 6.8 million followers on Instagram, numbers which illustrate the power of the Internet, the value of storytelling, and our desire to remain connected with real people in a tech-driven world.

Stanton’s gift for storytelling has also resulted in two best-selling books, “Humans of New York” (2013), which spent 45 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and “Humans of New York: Stories,” which shot to number one on the Time’s bestseller list within two weeks of its October 2015 release.  On stage, he candidly shares his own personal story, and the perspective he has gained since embarking on his journey to help others tell theirs.  He inspires his audiences with a renewed appreciation for the power of one person and one idea to inspire millions, and motivates them to contribute something meaningful to the world.

After graduating with a degree in history, Stanton traded bonds in Chicago until he lost his job, which led him to move to New York. In 2010, he started Humans of New York.

“The initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants.  Somewhere along the way, I began to interview my subjects in addition to photographing them. And alongside their portraits, I'd include quotes and short stories from their lives.”

Taken together, these portraits and captions became the subject of a vibrant blog which now provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets of New York City.  Over the past five years, it has also expanded to feature stories from over twenty different countries.  

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Lecture Sponsor(s)

Saturday, Apr. 29, 2017 at  8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB North Campus