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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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Lecture Sponsor(s)

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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Lecture Sponsor(s)

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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Lecture Sponsor(s)

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

Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay | April 5, 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. She has two upcoming releases--“Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” is a painstaking examination of body image, and “Difficult Women” is a collection of stories.

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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Lecture Sponsor(s)

Wednesday, Apr. 5, 2017 at 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB North Campus

James Franco
Photo: Terri Richardson, CollectiveShift

James Franco | April 29, 2017

Golden Globe-Winning Actor and Filmmaker
Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker

More About James Franco

Though James Franco’s more popular work may be on the big screen, his passion to learn and explore takes precedence in his life, constantly challenging himself in multiple facets of the industry. Franco’s metamorphosis into the title role of the TNT biopic “James Dean” earned him career-making reviews, as well as a Golden Globe. Franco earned an Independent Spirit Award as well as nominations for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award and recognition from numerous critics’ associations for his starring role in the critically acclaimed drama “127 Hours.”

Franco’s big screen credits include the “Spiderman” trilogy, "The Interview," “Milk,” “Pineapple Express,” “Date Night,” “Your Highness,” “OZ the Great and Powerful,” “Spring Breakers” and “This is the End.” He previously starred in the critically-acclaimed cult classic “Freaks and Geeks” and he also had recurring roles on “General Hospital” and “The Mindy Project.”  More recently on the small screen, he was cast in the lead role of the HULU limited series "11.22.63," which premiered in February 2016 and is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

He wrote, directed and starred in the features “Good Time Max” and “The Ape.” “Herbert White,” a short film in which he wrote and directed debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. “The Feast of Stephen,” also written and directed by Franco, premiered and won a TEDDY award at the Berlin Film Festival. Additionally, Franco directed “Saturday Night,” a documentary on the week-long production of a “Saturday Night Live” episode, which originally premiered at SXSW and “The Clerks Tale,” which premiered at Cannes. Franco wrote and directed a biography on poet Hart Crane called “The Broken Tower,” which premiered at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival.

Franco has been enrolled at a number of prestigious institutions, including University of California at Los Angeles, Columbia University, New York University, Yale University, and Rhode Island School of Design. He has shared his interest in learning, teaching English and film courses at USC, UCLA, CalArts and NYU.

Franco is a published author whose recent works include "Straight James/Gay James," a collection of poems, and “Palo Alto,” a compilation of short stories.  He has also released an EP, titled “MotorCity,” with his band Daddy. He made his Broadway debut in 2014 in the stage adaptation of “Of Mice and Men.”

In his free time, Franco has partnered with the organizations Art of Elysium, a Los Angeles-based charity that helps children with disabilities, and 826DC, a non-profit dedicated to helping local D.C. students excel.

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Lecture Sponsor(s)

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