Skip to main content

Kean University

President's Distinguished Lecture Series

Each year, the President’s Distinguished Lecture Series brings thought leaders and newsmakers to share insights with the Kean community. Previous lecturers include Pulitzer-prize-winning presidential historian Jon Meacham, civil rights leader Martin Luther King III, journalists Soledad O’Brien and Abby Phillip, author Chelsea Clinton and political commentator Bakari Sellers.

President's Distinguished Lecture Series

Past Events

Tabitha in a dance mode with an eclectic dress and a big smile

Tabitha Brown

Actress, Vegan Foodie & New York Times Bestselling Author

Tabitha Brown satisfies the hunger of millions with her unique approach to veganism and her wholesome, comedic personality. From teaching people new recipes, giving a word of wisdom or enjoying a good laugh, she has become “America’s Mom” to her 13 million plus followers.

The North Carolina-born, Emmy-winning actress, vegan food personality, mother, and wife is a two-time New York Times bestselling author, multi-NAACP Image Award Winner, and received her honorary doctorate from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She has acted in notable theatrical features on major networks such as Showtime’s The Chi, Executive produced and hosted Food Network’s first-ever vegan cooking competition show, It’s CompliPlated, and co-created and hosts her own children’s show, Tab Time.

Lauren Ridloff

Lauren Ridloff

The Universal Language of Inclusion

Lauren Ridloff, a Tony-nominated actress also known for roles in "The Walking Dead" and as Marvel’s first Deaf superhero (Eternals), returned to Kean University for a Distinguished Lecture. Ridloff was Kean's 2022 Undergraduate Commencement speaker. She began her meteoric rise as an actor just five years ago. Prior to that, she won the title of Miss Deaf America and was a kindergarten teacher in Manhattan for a decade. In 2016, she was hired to tutor director Kenny Leon in American Sign Language as he readied the Broadway revival of "Children of A Lesser God." She was later cast in the lead role in that production with resounding success, including multiple rave reviews from the New York Times and a Tony nomination. Ridloff soon became a series regular on the long-running AMC series, "The Walking Dead." She later became the first Deaf superhero opposite Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjani in Marvel's worldwide hit, "Eternals." Ridloff received a 2020 BAFTA Breakthrough award, recognizing the most promising stars of film and television.

A collage of A Different World cast photos

A Different World: 35 Years Later

In celebration of the 35th anniversary of the iconic television series "A Different World," we brought together the beloved cast members, Kadeem Hardison, Jasmine Guy, Darryl M. Bell, and Cree Summer, to explore whether it is indeed still "a different world" in the present day. This panel was a nostalgic yet thought-provoking journey through the lens of a show that left an indelible mark on television and society.

Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku, Ph.D.

Dr. Michio Kaku is one of the most widely recognized figures in science in the world today. He has written five New York Times Best-Sellers. His latest best seller is The God Equation: The Quest for the Theory of Everything. He is the science correspondent for national CBS This Morning TV. His weekly science radio show is heard in 100 cities across the country. He has 4.5 million fans on Facebook, and one million people follow him on Twitter. He has hosted numerous science specials on the Discovery Channel, Science Channel, and BBC-TV. He has appeared on the David Letterman Show, Good Morning America, Today Show, CBS Late Show with Stephen Colbert, HBO, Stephen Colbert Report, CNN, the History Channel, PBS-TV, National Geographic, and all the major news media. He was recently chosen as “one of the most influential physicists in the world today” by Academic Influence.

The Future of the Mind with Michio Kaku, Ph.D. - Watch the Recording

James McBride

James McBride

James McBride is an author, musician and screenwriter. His landmark memoir, The Color of Water, rested on the New York Times bestseller list for two years and explored McBride’s search for identity as the son of a white, Jewish woman and a black man. It is considered an American classic and is read in schools and universities across the United States. His debut novel, Miracle at St. Anna was translated into a major motion picture, directed by American film icon Spike Lee. James wrote the script for Miracle at St. Anna and co-wrote Spike Lee's 2012 Red Hook Summer. His novel, Song Yet Sung, was released in paperback in January 2009. His novel The Good Lord Bird, about American revolutionary John Brown, is the winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction and has been adapted by Ethan Hawke and Jason Blum into a Showtime series bearing the same name.

Dana a blond woman with a blue dress

Dana Bash

Dana Bash is CNN's chief political correspondent and co-anchor of State of the Union with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, the network's Sunday morning newsmaker show. Bash is based in Washington, D.C., where she covers both campaigns and Congress and regularly serves as a moderator for CNN's political town hall specials. She also moderated CNN's first debate of the 2020 election cycle in Detroit, as well as the last Democratic Presidential Debate of the cycle held in Washington, D.C. Bash also anchored special coverage of Election Night in America surrounding the 2020 election, which lasted several days until CNN was the first to project Joe Biden as the winner. Bash is the winner of the National Press Foundation's 2019 Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism.

Raymond Lesniak

Senator Raymond Lesniak gave a lecture on his colorful and accomplished life in New Jersey politics, moderated by Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage. Lesniak left the State Senate in January 2018, after forty years in the legislature. Lesniak is the Founder and President of the Lesniak Institute For American Leadership at Kean University. He has authored four books: Cultivating Justice in the Garden State: My Life in the Colorful World of New Jersey Politics; The Road To Abolition: How New Jersey Abolished The Death Penalty; What’s Love Got to Do With It: The Case for Same Sex Marriage and Beating The Odds: The Epic Battle That Brought Legal Sports Betting Across America.

Abby Phillip

Abby Phillip

CNN Senior Political Correspondent Abby Phillip, who formerly served as a White House correspondent and moderated CNN’s 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate, spoke on diversity, inclusion and Black voices in politics. An accomplished journalist for Inside Politics Sunday, Phillip also anchored CNN's 2020 election night coverage. Darlene Repollet, a former corporate human resources executive who, like her husband, is an advocate for equity and inclusion in education and business, moderated the discussion.

Contemporary artist Knowledge Bennett

Knowledge Bennett

Knowledge Bennett, Kean University's first artist-in-residence, is a Los Angeles-based American contemporary artist. Bennett's visual narratives are tangential critiques of American idealism, political corruption and systemic racial stratification. Bennett’s artistic voice fluctuates between vehement protest and deep personal introspection. His subject matter spans cultural icons, historical occurrences and political figures. One of Bennett's paintings titled "Black Excellence," from his "Black Paintings" series, is included in the nationally touring Smithsonian exhibition Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth., which is scheduled to travel to 10 cities from 2019 - 2022. Several more of Bennett’s works can be seen featured in the popular Netflix series #BLACKAF.

Futurist Jamie Metzl

Jamie Metzl

Jamie Metzl, one of the world’s leading futurists, specializes in making revolutionary science and its implications understandable to and actionable for individuals, companies and governments. A frequent CNN commentator, Metzl speaks regularly at some of the world’s most prestigious venues including SXSW, Google Zeitgeist and Singularity University. His syndicated columns and other writings on how technology, economics and global politics intersect have been featured in publications around the world, including: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Economist and TechCrunch. Jamie is the author of a history of the Cambodian genocide, the historical novel The Depths of the Sea, and the genetics sci-fi thrillers Genesis Code and Eternal Sonata. His high profile new book, Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity, was released in April 2019 to critical acclaim.

A photo of Bakari Sellers.

Bakari Sellers

CNN political analyst and best-selling author Bakari Sellers led a virtual conversation on the topic Education, Civil Rights and Equality: Cornerstones for Our Future. A lawyer and activist, Sellers has advocated for progressive policies throughout his career. In 2006, at 22 years old, he was elected into the South Carolina House of Representatives and became the youngest African American elected official in the nation. He was the democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in South Carolina before the age 30.

Martin Luther King III

Martin Luther King III

As the oldest son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King III has seized the torch lit by his parents and is continuing their quest for equality and justice for all people. He has motivated and inspired audiences around the world with his insightful message of hope and responsibility for nearly twenty years. A human rights advocate, community activist and a political leader, King has been actively involved in significant policy initiatives designed to promote fair and equitable treatment of all citizens, at home and abroad. From 1997 to 2004, he served as the fourth President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the influential social justice organization that his father co- founded in 1957.

David Axelrod

David Axelrod

David Axelrod, former White House political strategist and senior advisor to President Barack Obama, discussed The Evolving Media and Political Landscape. Axelrod currently serves as the founding director of the University of Chicago's non-partisan Institute of Politics and as a senior political commentator for CNN. He is the host of The Axe Files, a top-rated podcast featuring in depth conversations with public figures across the political spectrum. A televised version of the show airs monthly on CNN. A former political writer for the Chicago Tribune, Axelrod produced media strategy and advertising for 150 campaigns across the U.S., culminating in President Obama’s historic elections. Axelrod is also the author of The New York Times best-selling memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Former Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power

Samantha Power

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power developed the theme The State of the World: Challenges and Opportunities. Power is a leading voice for principled American engagement in the world. One of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People,” she is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, war correspondent, and the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Law School. Her latest book, New York Times bestseller The Education of an Idealist, chronicles her life in public service and reflects on the role of human rights and humanitarian ideals in contemporary geopolitics.

Chelsea Clinton

Chelsea Clinton

Best-selling author Chelsea Clinton spoke about her new children’s book, Don’t Let Them Disappear, and threats to endangered animals during a special lecture event and book signing. The event was co-sponsored by the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership and Kean’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

Abigail E. Disney and the Rev. Rob Schenk

The Armor of Light

In this installment of the Kean University Distinguished Lecture Series, two renowned speakers addressed the question Can a person be both pro-gun and pro-life?

Distinguished Lecturers: Abigail E. Disney and Rev. Rob Schenck

Judy Smith Photo

Judy A. Smith

Judy Smith was the inspiration for and co-executive producer of Scandal, a TV drama revolving around the life and work of a high-powered crisis management executive. She is the founder and president of Smith & Company, a leading strategic advisory firm with offices nationwide. Smith has worked on some of the most historic and sensational events of our time, including the Iran-Contra investigation; the prosecution of former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry; the 1991 Gulf War; the congressional inquiry of Enron; the President Clinton scandal involving Monica Lewinsky; and the Sony Corporation hacking crisis. She also serves as counselor to Fortune 500 corporations and authored the book, Good Self, Bad Self. Smith spoke about crisis management and her work in communication, media and politics.

Distinguished Lecture Series - Jon Meacham 2

Jon Meacham

Jon Meacham is a renowned presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the Society of American Historians, Meacham is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University. He is a contributing writer to The New York Times Book Review, a contributing editor of Time, and has written for The New York Times op-ed page, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, and Garden & Gun. Meacham is also a regular guest on “Morning Joe” and other broadcasts.

Grant Imahara

For almost a decade, Grant Imahara was one of the hosts of Discovery Channel's Mythbusters. Using a blend of science and fun, he put urban legends to the test, sometimes with explosive results. Before becoming a Mythbuster, Grant was a model maker and animatronics engineer at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), where he worked in movie special effects. At ILM, he worked on 11 feature films, including Star Wars: Episodes 1-3, Artificial Intelligence: AI, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Grant was the co-host of the Netflix original series, White Rabbit Project, where he and his co-stars investigate the science behind the greatest inventions, the most daring heists, and unusual pop culture events in American history.


Soledad O'Brien

An award-winning journalist, documentarian and producer, Soledad O'Brien is also the founder of PowHERful, a foundation that mentors and funds college tuition and expenses for young women. She spoke about the issues of gender, race and social inequality.

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist best known for his coverage of the Watergate scandal, spoke about the importance of a free press and investigative journalism as part of a new distinguished lecture series at Kean University. The event was free and open to the public. An associate editor of The Washington Post and best-selling author, Woodward is widely regarded as one of the best journalists in the nation’s history and is the ideal person to launch the new lecture series, said Kean President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D.