Elon University announces speakers for the 2019-20 academic year

Among those visiting Elon next year are former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Wikipedia founder and entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, Sesame Street actress and author Sonia Manzano, free speech advocate and author Zachary R. Wood and renowned civil rights scholar and Phi Beta Kappa leader Frederick M. Lawrence.  

Elon University will welcome speakers of national and international prominence during the 2019-20 academic year at a series of engaging events designed to promote discussion and thought.

2019 Fall Convocation

Nikki Haley, who served as the 29th U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2019 and as the 116th Governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, will be the featured speaker at the university’s Fall Convocation on Friday, Sept. 27, at 3:30 p.m. in Schar Center. 

At the United Nations, Haley ensured the American people saw value for their investment, introducing reforms that made the organization more efficient, transparent and accountable. In a two-year period, she negotiated $1.3 billion in savings, including rightsizing UN peacekeeping missions to make them more effective and targeted while improving their ability to protect civilians. As UN Ambassador, Haley championed human rights and challenged human rights violators across the globe, standing up to oppressive regimes in Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and Russia. During the U.S presidency of the UN Security Council, she hosted the first-ever session devoted solely to promoting human rights.

A native of Bamberg, South Carolina, Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants and a graduate of Clemson University. In 2010, she became the first female and first minority to be elected governor of South Carolina and won re-election in 2014. 

Under her leadership, South Carolina was a national leader in economic development, with the unemployment rate hitting a 15-year low, and the state seeing more than $20 billion in new capital investment and the creation of over 85,000 new jobs. She ushered in the state’s largest education reform in decades by making education funding more equitable for schools in South Carolina’s poorest communities, prioritizing reading in early grades and equipping classrooms with the latest technology.

2020 Baird Lecture

​The 2020 Baird Lecture will be delivered on Tuesday, April 7, at 7 p.m. in Alumni Gym by Jimmy Wales, a leading technology futurist and the founder of Wikipedia, the fifth-most popular website worldwide, and WikiTribune, an ad-free global news platform.

Named one of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People,” Wales has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the top 250 leaders around the world for his professional accomplishments, commitment to society and potential to shape the future.

Wales founded Nupedia in 2000, a “free encyclopedia” characterized by an extensive peer-review process designed to produce high-quality articles comparable to professional encyclopedias. The addition of “wikis” – a collection of web pages that enable anyone to contribute or modify content — transformed the site into Wikipedia, with Wales providing the founding principles and content, and establishing an Internet-based community of contributors. Currently the English Wikipedia includes more than 5.8 million articles, with 567 articles added each day. Wikipedia develops at a rate of 1.8 edits per second.

Wales is a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and serves on the boards of Socialtext, a provider of wiki technology to businesses, and the nonprofit organization Creative Commons.  

Wales’s address will be part of Elon’s Baird Lecture Series, which was endowed in 2001 by a gift from James H. Baird and his late wife, Jane M. Baird, of Burlington, N.C.

Community Engagement Lecture

Zachary R. Wood will deliver a Community Engagement Lecture at Elon on Tuesday, Oct. 1, at 6 p.m. in McCrary Theatre.

Wood rose to national prominence while a student at Williams College, where he was president of the student group Uncomfortable Learning, which invited speakers with controversial perspectives to come speak freely on the college’s campus. His work with the group put him at the center of multiple campus controversies that generated national news coverage. In particular, his invitation of former National Review columnist John Derbyshire to speak at Williams brought attention to the issue of campus censorship.

An activist for free speech and dissenting opinions, Wood has taken his message beyond his college campus and shared his own personal story and experiences in his memoir, “Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America.”

A 2018 graduate of Williams College, Wood was a Robert L. Bentley Fellow at The Wall Street Journal and currently works as an assistant opinion editor at The Guardian.


2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address

Sonia Manzano, best known for inspiring, educating and delighting children as “Maria” on “Sesame Street,” will deliver the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address at Elon on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m. in McCrary Theatre. Her lecture will focus on multiracial Latinos and the civil rights movement.

Manzano was a fixture on the iconic “Sesame Street” program for more than 30 years, having broken ground as one of the first Hispanic characters on national television. Raised in the South Bronx, her involvement in the arts was inspired by teachers who encouraged her to audition for the High School of Performing Arts. Following study at Carnegie Mellon University, Manzano landed a role in the original production of the off-Broadway show “Godspell,” and within a year, had joined “Sesame Street,” originally writing scripts for the series. She began her 36-year run as a cast member in 1973.

Twice nominated for an Emmy for her performances on “Sesame Street,” she won 15 Emmys as part of the writing team for the series. Her latest books are “Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx,” and a Christmas picture book, “Miracle on 133 Street.” She authored the children’s book “No Dogs Allowed in 2007 and the young adult novel “The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano” in 2012.

She received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 43 Daytime Emmy Awards and in 2016 was presented with honorary doctorates from Carnegie Mellon, Tufts University and Lehman College.

2020 James P. Elder Lecture and Phi Beta Kappa Lecture

Frederick M. Lawrence, renowned civil rights scholar, author, secretary/CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and former president of Brandeis University, will deliver the Elder Lecture and Phi Beta Kappa Lecture on Thursday, April 16, at 6:30 p.m. in Whitley Auditorium.

An accomplished scholar, teacher and attorney, Lawrence is one of the nation’s leading experts on civil rights, free expression and bias crimes. A distinguished lecturer at the Georgetown Law Center, he previously served as president of Brandeis University, dean of the George Washington University Law School and visiting professor and senior research scholar at Yale Law School.

He is the author of “Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law,” a book that examined bias-motivated violence and the laws governing how that violence is punished in the United States. He is an opinion contributor to The Hill and U.S. News & World Report, and frequently contributes opinion pieces to Newsweek, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Observer, The New York Daily News and The Huffington Post.

At Phi Beta Kappa, he has focused on advocacy for the arts, humanities and sciences, championing free expression, free inquiry and academic freedom. The nation’s first and most prestigious honor society, Phi Beta Kappa has 286 chapters, including Elon’s chapter, and 50 alumni associations.