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American University Announces 2018 Commencement Speakers

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Students Graduating

American University will hold to tradition and host its 135th commencement ceremonies on Mother's Day weekend on campus in Bender Arena with an illustrious assembly of commencement speakers to offer congratulations, inspiration and motivation to approximately 3,500 graduates. A seat at an AU commencement ceremony this year will put you in the presence of extraordinary leaders - a Nobel Peace Laureate, a civil rights leader, a medical doctor and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, a Washington Post reporter, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or a former National Economic Council director. Individual school ceremonies will be held on May 12 and 13, followed by the law school ceremony on May 20. This will be the first Spring commencement under the leadership of President Sylvia M. Burwell.

Michael Kempner is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MWWPR, one of the nation’s largest independent public relations firms. He started this public relations agency in 1986, six years after he graduated from AU and is a nationally recognized authority on reputation and crisis management, public affairs, business to business, consumer marketing and corporate social responsibility. Kempner has been honored with several of the industry’s highest accolades, including PR Week’s PR Professional of the Year in 2015 and 2010. An active member of his community, Kempner was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a Governor of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In this position, he helps direct all U.S. international media including the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcast Network and Radio Free Asia.

Kempner is also active in progressive politics and issues, having played major roles in the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton. In January 2018, Kempner was elected the Chairman of the Board of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, is a current member of the Fulbright-Canada Scholarship Board and is a founding Board Member of ConnectOne Bank, one of the nation’s most successful community banks.

Jeffrey Zients, former director, National Economic Council and current Economic Strategy Group member of The Aspen Institute, will address the graduates of the Kogod School of Business at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, May 12. Prior to his current role, Zients was President Obama's principal economic policy advisor as director of the National Economic Council (2014-2017). He also served in the Obama Administration in the Office of Management and Budget as acting director (2012-2013), and deputy director, Management and Federal Chief Performance Officer (2009-2011). During his time in the Administration, he spearheaded the turnaround of the failed healthcare.gov website launch (2013).

Zients founded and managed a private equity firm, Portfolio Logic, LLC (2003-2009) and held several leadership positions with other organizations including the Advisory Board Company and Corporate Executive Board (1992-2003). Zients will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist, social worker, women's rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2011), will address the graduates of the School of International Service at 6 p.m., Saturday, May 12. She is founder and president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, based in Monrovia, Liberia.

Gbowee is best known for leading a nonviolent movement that brought together Christian and Muslim women to play a pivotal role in ending Liberia's devastating, fourteen-year civil war in 2003. This historic achievement paved the way for the election of Africa's first female head of state, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It also marked the vanguard of a new wave of women emerging worldwide as essential and uniquely effective participants in brokering lasting peace and security. Her story as told in the 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell and her 2011 memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers - as well as her lectures and discussions with groups large and small - have engaged, inspired, and motivated untold numbers of people worldwide. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Nobel Women's Initiative, Gbowee Peace Foundation and the PeaceJam Foundation, and she is a member of the African Women Leaders Network for Reproductive Health and Family Planning. She will receive an honorary Doctor of International Affairs degree.

Robert Costa, moderator for Washington Week, PBS's Peabody Award-winning weekly news analysis series, and national political reporter at The Washington Post, will address the graduates of the School of Public Affairs at 10 a.m., Sunday, May 13. Costa covers Congress and the White House for The Washington Post and regularly travels the country to meet with voters and elected officials. At Washington Week, Costa oversees the weekly roundtable discussion of journalists on the program, which broadcasts live on PBS stations nationwide and on digital content platforms.

Costa joined Washington Week in April 2017 with nearly a decade of reporting experience that began with granular coverage of movement politics and Congress and later the battle over health-care policy and the 2010 mid-term elections. Prior to joining The Washington Post in January 2014, Costa was a reporter and then Washington editor for National Review, directing a team of reporters and where his reporting on the 2013 U.S. federal government shutdown earned acclaim. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health, will address the graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, May 13. Dr. Fauci was appointed director of NIAID in 1984. He oversees an extensive portfolio of basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat established infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and malaria as well as emerging diseases such as Ebola and Zika. NIAID also supports research on transplantation and immune-related illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.

Dr. Fauci has advised five Presidents on HIV/AIDS and many other domestic and global health issues. In a 2017 analysis of Google Scholar citations, Dr. Fauci ranked as the 24th most highly cited researcher of all time.

Dr. Fauci has delivered major lectures all over the world and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest honor given to a civilian by the President of the United States) and the National Medal of Science. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than 1,300 scientific publications, including several textbooks. Dr. Fauci will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive officer of The Leadership Conference and former leader of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, will address graduates of the Washington College of Law at 1 p.m., Sunday, May 20. Vanita Gupta is an experienced leader and litigator who has devoted her entire career to civil rights work. She served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division from October 2014 to January 2017. Appointed by President Barack Obama as the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta oversaw a wide range of criminal and civil enforcement efforts to ensure equal justice and protect equal opportunity for all during one of the most consequential periods for the division.

Under Gupta's leadership, the division did critical work in a number of areas, including advancing constitutional policing and criminal justice reform; prosecuting hate crimes and human trafficking; promoting disability rights; protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals; ensuring voting rights for all; and combating discrimination in education, housing, employment, lending, and religious exercise.

Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as deputy legal director and the director of the Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She began her legal career as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

In addition to conferring honorary degrees, American University President Sylvia M. Burwell will present the President's Award, the highest award for AU undergraduates, to a graduating senior who has displayed a longstanding commitment to building community and promoting AU's ideals of academic achievement, integrity, selflessness, leadership, and service.

More information on the speakers is available on AU's commencement website. Students, alumni friends, and family will be tweeting using the hashtag #2018AUGrad. Those who cannot attend the ceremonies will be able to watch a live stream of each ceremony on AU's commencement website.