Elon University Home

2014 Intersect Conference Keynote Speakers

Jose Antonio Vargas

“This deceit never got easier. The more I did it, the more I felt like an impostor, the more guilt I carried — and the more I worried that I would get caught.” - Jose Antonio Vargas

A journalist for over a decade writing for some of the most prestigious news organizations in the country, Jose Antonio Vargas’ personal journey contends with some of the most fascinating stories he’s covered, living a double life since he was 16 years old.

After being born and reared in the Philippines, his mother, wanting to give her son a better life, sent him to live with his grandparents in Silicon Valley in 1993. Vargas loved his new homeland and immersed himself in American culture, spoke the language perfectly, studied hard in school and loved writing for the school paper. However, at 16 years old when applying for his Learner’s permit at the DMV, he discovered his green card was a fake, which was later confirmed by his grandfather. Vargas then realized he needed to continue hiding his true identity to avoid deportation and be able to pursue his American dream – a career in journalism.

And succeed he did. Vargas wrote a widely circulated profile of Mark Zuckerberg for The New Yorker. He also served as a senior contributing editor at the Huffington Post, where he launched the Technology and College sections and created the Technology as Anthropology blog, which focuses on tech’s impact on people and how they behave. He covered the tech and video game culture, HIV/AIDS, and the 2008 presidential campaign for the Washington Post, and was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for covering the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. His 2006 series on HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. inspired a feature-length documentary -- The Other City -- which he co-produced and wrote. The documentary premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and aired on Showtime. In 2007, the daily journal Politico named him one of the 50 Politicos To Watch.

He’s written for daily newspapers (Philadelphia Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle) and national magazines (Rolling Stone and New York) and has appeared on CNN, ABC News and PBS NewsHour. He taught “Storytelling 2.0” at Georgetown University and served on the advisory board for the Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism, housed at American University.

However despite all his achievements, the dark shadow of Vargas’ true identity continued to haunt him, as he frequently lied to friends and colleagues, avoided close relationships so no one would ask too many questions, and didn’t travel abroad due to his illegal passport. Finally in the summer of 2011, 18 years after arriving in America he decided he was done running. Vargas exposed his story in his groundbreaking essay, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” for the New York Times Magazine, stunning the media and political circles and attracting worldwide coverage.

Today Vargas runs Define American, a non-profit organization that seeks to elevate the conversation around immigration. He is a very proud alumnus of Mountain View High School and San Francisco State University, loves jazz, can’t get enough of Ben & Jerry’s and worships at the altars of Altman, Almodovar, Didion, Baldwin and Orwell.

He lives in New York City.
 

Kenn Gaither

T. Kenn Gaither is an associate professor/associate dean at the Elon University School of Communications, where he teaches courses in international public relations, public relations and mass communication. He has published in several public relations journals, including the Journal of Public Relations Research and Public Relations Review, and serves as series editor for the Cambria Press Communication Collection. He has written or co-authored three books, most recently Globalization and Public Relations in Postcolonial Nations: Challenges and Opportunities (Cambria, 2012). Gaither also has more than nine years of professional public relations agency experience and was part of a public relations team that won a Hyundai MicroElectronics of America Excellence in Service Award for public relations work associated with its $4.5 billion merger with LG Semicon in 1999. Gaither speaks Portuguese and has lived or taught in Brazil, Ghana and China. He has sailed on nine voyages of Semester at Sea, most recently serving as executive dean on the summer 2012 voyage.

 

Previous Intersect Keynote Speakers

Zach Wahls

When 19-year old engineering student Zach Wahls got up to testify before the Iowa House of Representatives in February 2011, he had no idea what was in store for him. He spoke briefly and directly about his family and why he believes same-sex marriage, legal in Iowa since 2009, should remain protected by his state’s constitution. By the next day, without his knowledge, Zach’s words and image had been uploaded onto YouTube and he’d become a national topic—over 1.5 million viewers within ten days. Energized by his new, and astoundingly sudden, emergence as a national advocate for marriage equality, Zach has continued speaking and in 2012 published his book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family bout his life growing up with two lesbian parents.

Silvia Cristina Bettez

Author and assistant professor of social justice issues and qualitative research in the graduate department of Educational Leaderhip & Cultural Foundations at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her scholarship centralizes social justice with a focus on fostering critical community building, teaching for social justice, and promoting equity through cross-cultural communication and engagement.

Tim Wise

Tim Wise, whom philosopher Cornel West calls, “A vanilla brother in the tradition of (antiracism and antislavery fighter) John Brown,” is among the most prominent anti-racist writers and educators in the United States. Wise, who was named one of “25 Visionaries Who are Changing Your World,” by Utne Reader in 2010, has spoken in all 50 states of the U.S., on over 800 college and high school campuses, and to community groups across the nation. Tim Wise provides a critical perspective on racism and privilege no only through his lectures but through his six books; His next book, The Culture of Cruelty: How America’s Elite Demonize the Poor, Valorize the Rich and Jeopardize the Future, will be released in Winter 2014.

Jonathan Sprinkles

Motivational speaker, Jonathan Sprinkles, shows people how to accept responsibility for their role in the organization’s vision, approach each assignment expecting excellence and success, and add value to their organization, which in turn increases their self-confidence and gives them greater satisfaction with their lives. Jonathan’s techniques and teaching style come from experience. Having faced many of the same personal, financial, and organizational challenges his audiences have endured, Jonathan “gets it.” Jonathan Sprinkles lives his mission to inspire people and organizations to connect with their potential and achieve the success they deserve.