2018-2019 Season Speakers

We’re proud to bring world-renowned speakers to UB for the 32nd annual Distinguished Speakers 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.

Our Distinguished Speakers Series is more than a proud university tradition.  It is an invaluable opportunity for all of us—students, staff, faculty and community members—to engage with contemporary thought leaders and innovative change-makers who inspire us to challenge our assumptions, explore the world from different angles and shape the narrative on our shared experience.

Public research universities like UB play a critical role in addressing key social issues that impact our communities. Our Distinguished Speakers Series achieves this by sparking thoughtful, informed dialogue with leading figures at the vanguard of the 21st century. By harnessing their intellect and creativity for the greater good, each outstanding speaker in this year’s compelling lineup truly sets the bar for distinction. -  UB President Satish K. Tripathi

This Season:

Joe Biden

Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden | Oct. 25 | Alumni Arena

47th Vice President of the United States (2009-17)

Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker

More About Joe Biden

As a senator from Delaware for 36 years, Biden was a leading architect of domestic policy on some of the most pressing issues facing the country. Then-Senator Biden served as chairman or ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for 17 years, and was a preeminent voice on criminal justice issues, including authoring both the landmark 1994 Crime Act and the Violence Against Women Act. Biden has worked relentlessly since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 to change the culture around domestic violence and sexual assault, and protect and strengthen victims’ rights. As chairman or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years, then-Senator Biden played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. foreign policy. He has been at the forefront of issues and legislation related to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, post-Cold War Europe, the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

As the 47th vice president of the United States, Biden oversaw the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was integral to rescuing the economy from the brink of another Great Depression. The Recovery Act added 2 million jobs to the economy and made an unprecedented investment in America’s infrastructure. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, under former Vice President Biden’s oversight, more than $800 billion dollars were injected into the economy with less than two tenths of one percent waste, fraud or abuse – making it one of the most efficient government programs in history. 

As vice president, Biden also chaired the Middle-Class Task Force, an administration-wide effort to improve the everyday lives and livelihoods of working men and women, and oversaw the administration’s Skills Initiative to improve federal workforce training programs. He authored “Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity,” a report to the president on how best to ensure American workers are trained for the jobs of the 21st century.

Biden also led the administration’s efforts to implement meaningful reforms to reduce gun violence in this country, which resulted in federal actions aimed at strengthening the background check system and addressing mental health issues linked to gun violence, among others.

In January 2017, President Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with Distinction — the highest civilian honor in the U.S.

Since leaving the White House, Biden continues his legacy of expanding opportunity for all with the creation of the Biden Foundation, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Biden Institute of Domestic Policy at the University of Delaware. Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden have also founded the Biden Cancer Initiative to end cancer as we know it, and they continue their son Beau’s work protecting children from abuse with the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children. Vice President Biden is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose” a memoir released in 2017.

Biden is an alumnus of the University of Delaware, Class of 1965.

For source or more information, please visit:

Thurs., Oct. 25, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

Peter Diamandis

Peter Diamandis

Peter Diamandis | Nov. 14 | Center for the Arts

Executive Chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation

More About Peter Diamandis

Peter Diamandis, MD, is an international pioneer in the fields of innovation, incentive competitions and commercial space. In 2014 he was named one of "The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders" by FORTUNE Magazine.

In the field of innovation, Diamandis is founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, best known for its $10 million Ansari XPRIZE for private spaceflight.

Diamandis is also the co-founder and vice-chairman of Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), a genomics and cell therapy-based diagnostic and therapeutic company focused on extending the healthy human lifespan. He is also the executive co-founder of Singularity University, a graduate-level Silicon Valley institution that studies exponentially growing technologies, their ability to transform industries and solve humanity’s grand challenges.

In the field of commercial space, Diamandis is co-founder/co-chairman of Planetary Resources, a company designing spacecraft to enable the detection and prospecting of asteroid for precious materials. He is also the co-founder of Space Adventures and Zero-Gravity Corporation.

Diamandis is the New York Times bestselling co-author of “Abundance The Future Is Better Than You Think” and “BOLD – How to go Big, Create Wealth & Impact the World.”

He earned an undergraduate degree in molecular genetics and a graduate degree in aerospace engineering from MIT, and received his MD from Harvard Medical School.

Diamandis’ mission is to open the space frontier for humanity. His personal motto is: "The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself."

In 2016, the Greek government honored him by issuing a 1.2 Euro stamp into circulation. Also in 2016, the book “How To Make A Spaceship – A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight,” Diamandis’ biography and the story of the XPRIZE was written by Julian Guthrie with a foreword by Richard Branson and an afterword by Stephen Hawking.

For source or more information, please visit:

Lecture Sponsor

Wed., Nov. 14, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Center for the Arts, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova | Dec. 6 | Center for the Arts

Neuroscientist and Bestselling Author of “Still Alice”

More About Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova, PhD, is acclaimed as the Oliver Sacks of fiction and the Michael Crichton of brain science. Genova has captured a special place in contemporary fiction, writing stories that are equally inspired by neuroscience and the human spirit. She is author of the New York Times bestselling novels “Still Alice,” “Left Neglected,” “Love Anthony,” and “Inside the O’Briens.” Most recently, she released “Every Note Played.”

“Still Alice,” her novel about a Harvard professor who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, was adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish. Moore won the 2015 Best Actress Oscar for her role as Alice Howland.

In 2015, Genova was named one of the “U.S. Top 50 Influencers in Aging” by Next Avenue. She has appeared on “Dr. Oz,” “the TODAY Show,” “PBS Newshour,” CNN and NPR. Her TED Talk, "What You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer's" has been viewed over three million times. 

Genova has received numerous awards and honors: The Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square, for "distinguished storytelling that has enriched the public dialogue;" The Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award; The Global Genes RARE Champions of Hope Award; The American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Media Award for "informing the public about treatment and ongoing research in medical illness; The Alzheimer's Association's Rita Hayworth Award; The Huntington’s Disease Society of America Community Awareness Award; and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Bates College.

Genova graduated valedictorian, summa cum laude from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and has a doctorate in Neuroscience from Harvard University.    

For source or more information, please visit:

Thurs., Dec. 6, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Center for the Arts, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

Angela Davis

Angela Davis

Angela Davis | Feb. 27 | Alumni Arena

Legendary Human Rights Activist and Author

UB's 43rd Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Keynote Speaker

More About Angela Davis

Through her activism and scholarship over many decades, Angela Davis, PhD, has been deeply involved in movements for social justice around the world. Her work as an educator – both at the university level and in the larger public sphere – has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial and gender justice. Davis’ teaching career has taken her to San Francisco State University, Mills College and UC Berkeley. She has also taught at UCLA, Vassar, Syracuse University, the Claremont Colleges, and Stanford University. At the University of California Santa Cruz she is Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness – an interdisciplinary PhD program – and of Feminist Studies.

Davis has lectured throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Caribbean. In recent years a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She draws upon her own experiences in the early seventies as a person who spent 18 months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List.” She also has conducted extensive research on numerous issues related to race, gender and imprisonment.

Davis has authored numerous books including "“Abolition Democracy” and “Are Prisons Obsolete?” about the abolition of the prison industrial complex, a new edition of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and two collections of essays titled “The Meaning of Freedom” and “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.”

Davis is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an abolitionist organization based in Queensland, Australia that works in solidarity with women in prison. Like many educators, Davis is especially concerned with the general tendency to devote more resources and attention to the prison system than to educational institutions. Having helped to popularize the notion of a “prison industrial complex,” she now urges her audiences to think seriously about the future possibility of a world without prisons and to help forge a 21st century abolitionist movement.    

For source or more information, please visit:

Wed., Feb. 27, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

Ronan Farrow

Ronan Farrow

Ronan Farrow | Mar. 28 | Center for the Arts

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Investigative Reporter

More About Ronan Farrow

Ronan Farrow was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service and named to TIME's “100 Most Influential People of 2018” for his culture-shifting reporting for The New Yorker on Harvey Weinstein, sexual harassment and abuse of power. Awarded along with Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor of The New York Times, the Pulitzer Prize committee recognized Farrow's, “explosive, impactful journalism... spurring a worldwide reckoning about sexual abuse of women,” and as the TIME tribute cited, "Their hard work and impeccable journalism have changed attitudes, behavior, conversations, norms, laws and policies, yielding enormous personal and public good."

Beyond his groundbreaking work with The New Yorker, Farrow has been an anchor and reporter at MSNBC and NBC News, and his writing has appeared in publications including The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. In early 2018, Farrow signed an exclusive three-year deal with HBO to develop and be featured in a series of investigative documentary specials. In spring 2018, he released a book titled “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence.” The book was an instant Amazon and New York Times #1 Bestseller.

Farrow formerly served as a State Department diplomat in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and reported to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the United States’ first special adviser for global youth during the Arab Spring revolutions. Farrow is a Yale Law School educated attorney who has specialized in human rights, and he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. 

For source or more information, please visit:

Thurs., Mar. 28, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
Center for the Arts, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice | April 17 | Alumni Arena

U.S. Secretary of State (2005-09)

Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker

More About Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice, PhD, is currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution; and a professor of political science at Stanford University. She is also a founding partner of RiceHadleyGates, LLC.

From January 2005 to 2009, Rice served as the 66th secretary of state of the United States, the second woman and first African American woman to hold the post. Rice also served as President George W. Bush’s assistant to the president for national security affairs (national security advisor) from January 2001 to 2005, the first woman to hold the position. From 1989 through March 1991, Rice served on President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Council staff.  She served as director; senior director of Soviet and east European affairs; and, special assistant to the president for national security affairs. In 1986, while an international affairs fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rice also served as special assistant to the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

She has authored and coauthored numerous books, including three bestsellers, “Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom” (2017); “No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington” (2011); and “Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family” (2010). She also wrote “Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft” (1995) with Philip Zelikow; “The Gorbachev Era” (1986) with Alexander Dallin; and “Uncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army" (1984).

As professor of political science, Rice has been on the Stanford University faculty since 1981 and has won two of the highest teaching honors – the 1984 Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 1993 School of Humanities and Sciences Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching. Rice served as Stanford University’s provost from 1993-1999, during which she was the institution's chief budget and academic officer. As provost, she was responsible for a $1.5 billion annual budget and the academic program involving 1,400 faculty members and 14,000 students.

In 1991, Rice cofounded the Center for a New Generation (CNG), an innovative, after-school academic enrichment program for students in East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park, California. In 1996, CNG merged with the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula, an affiliate club of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BCGA). CNG has since expanded to local BGCA chapters in Birmingham, Atlanta and Dallas. She remains an active proponent of an extended learning day through after school programs. 

In 1997, she served on the Federal Advisory Committee on Gender -- Integrated Training in the Military.

Since 2009, Rice has been a founding partner at RiceHadleyGates, LLC, an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. The firm works with senior executives of major companies to implement strategic plans and expand in emerging markets. Other partners include former National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley and former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

Rice currently serves on the boards of Dropbox, an online-storage technology company; C3, an energy software company; and Makena Capital, a private endowment firm. In addition, she is vice chair of the board of governors of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America; a member of the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education; and a trustee of the Aspen Institute. Previously, Rice served on various additional boards, including those of: the George W. Bush Institute; the Commonwealth Club; KiOR, Inc.; the Chevron Corporation; the Charles Schwab Corporation; the Transamerica Corporation; the Hewlett-Packard Company; the University of Notre Dame; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and, the San Francisco Symphony Board of Governors.

In 2013, Rice was appointed to the College Football Playoff Committee, formerly the Bowl Championship Series.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Rice earned her bachelor's degree in political science, cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Denver; her master’s from the University of Notre Dame; and her PhD from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

Rice is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been awarded fourteen honorary doctorates.  She currently resides in Stanford, California.

For source or more information, please visit:

Wed., Apr. 17, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

The Undergraduate Student Association is proud to once again continue our support and commitment to the Distinguished Speakers Series. The Distinguished Speakers Series is a vital tradition at the University at Buffalo that allows students, faculty, and the UB community to engage with notable and historical change makers. It is an absolute honor to welcome the 47th Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden as the first student choice speaker this fall. His decades-long career in public service is incredibly inspirational for all University at Buffalo students as we each consider the impact we want to make in our respected fields of study and communities upon graduation. The Student Association is also honored to welcome the 66th United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice as the second student choice speaker this spring. Dr. Rice's remarkable career offers a worldview perspective for students to examine the complexities and often unknown circumstances surrounding national security decisions. With notable speakers on both sides of the political spectrum, the Student Association wishes to encourage students and the University at Buffalo community to respectfully question their own assumptions and carefully consider the evidence and arguments supporting viewpoints that might differ from their own. - Gunnar Haberl, Undergraduate Student Association President