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University Life & Services

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Distinguished Speakers

Distinguished Speakers Series

2014-2015 Speakers: Cheryl Strayed 9/10, Wes Moore 10/15, John Oliver 11/18, Earvin "Magic" Johnson 2/12, Robert Ballard 4/1, Steve Wozniak 4/29


Photo: Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed

Author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller "Wild"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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Strayed is the author of the, #1 New York Times bestselling memoir, "Wild." At age 22, Strayed found herself shattered by two major life events: her mother's sudden death from cancer and the end of her young marriage. After hitting rock bottom, Strayed decided to confront her emotional pain by trekking over 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. "Wild" tells the amateur hiker's tale, peppered with the colorful characters she encounters along the way, as she struggles to find inner peace and stability. Strayed's story inspired Oprah Winfrey to revive her tremendously popular book club, making "Wild" its inaugural selection for the launch of Oprah's Book Club 2.0. The story also inspired producer and actress Reese Witherspoon to bring "Wild" to the big screen in 2014.

Strayed is also the author of The New York Times bestseller "Tiny Beautiful Things" - based on her widely popular "Dear Sugar" columns for TheRumpus.net - and the critically acclaimed novel "Torch," a finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award. Her writing has appeared in "The Best American Essays," The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Vogue, Allure, The Missouri Review, Creative Nonfiction, The Sun and elsewhere. Her books have been translated into twenty-six languages around the world.

Strayed holds an MFA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota. She's a founding member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

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Photo: Wes Moore

Wes Moore

Youth Advocate, Army Combat Veteran and Bestselling Author of "The Other Wes Moore"
UB Reads Author

Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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Wes Moore is a youth advocate, Army combat veteran and social entrepreneur. His first book "The Other Wes Moore" became an instant New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller.

"The Other Wes Moore" is about two boys with the same name, growing up in the same city. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder. Both had grown up in similar neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods. At each stage of their young lives they had come across similar moments of decision, yet their choices and the people in their lives would lead them to astonishingly different destinies. A young adult version of the book was published, titled, "Discovering Wes Moore."

Born in 1978, Moore and his sisters were raised by their widowed mother. Despite early academic and behavioral struggles, Moore graduated Phi Theta Kappa in 1998 as a commissioned officer from Valley Forge Military College, and Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University in 2001, where he played football and earned a bachelor's degree in International Relations. He then became a Rhodes Scholar, studying International Relations at Oxford University. After his studies, Moore, a paratrooper and Captain in the United States Army, served a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. A White House Fellow from 2006-07, Moore served as a Special Assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Following that, he became an investment professional at Citigroup, focusing on global technology, where he left as a Vice President.

He has served on the board of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America and The Johns Hopkins University, and he founded an organization called STAND!, through Johns Hopkins, that works with Baltimore youth involved in the criminal justice system.

Moore executive produced and hosted the PBS series "Coming Back with Wes Moore," which followed the story of several soldiers returning from war. He has been featured through media outlets such as "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Charlie Rose," "Meet the Press," "The View" and The New York Times.

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Photo: John Oliver

John Oliver

Comedian, Political Satirist and Host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver"
Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker

POSTPONED to Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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John Oliver is an Emmy and Writer's Guild award winning writer. His HBO show, "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," presents a satirical look at the week in news, politics and current events.

Oliver first came to prominence as a cutting-edge political stand up in the UK, with a string of television appearances and sold-out solo shows at the Edinburgh Festival. He moved to America in 2006 to work on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" as a correspondent and later became a guest host. Oliver won the Breakout Award at the Aspen Comedy Festival in 2007 and went on to write and star in his first hour long Comedy Central stand up special, "John Oliver: Terrifying Times," in April 2008. Such was its success that Oliver has now hosted several seasons of his own stand up series for Comedy Central, "John Oliver's New York Stand Up Show," an hour long show featuring a hand-picked selection of his favorite comedians. Guest headliners have included Marc Maron, Hannibal Buress, Janeane Garofalo, Chris Hardwick and Deon Cole.

With long-time collaborator Andy Zaltzman, Oliver co-writes and co-presents the hugely popular weekly satirical podcast "The Bugle." Oliver and Zaltzman previously wrote and starred in three series of "The Department" (BBC Radio 4) alongside Chris Addison, as well as two series of BBC Radio 4 show "Political Animal," based on their satirical live stand up show.

Oliver also continues to successfully tour the U.S. as a stand up. He has a regular guest role on NBC's sitcom "Community," is the voice of Vanity Smurf in "The Smurfs" movie and its sequel "The Smurfs 2," and has appeared in "The Simpsons" as Marge and Homer's next-door neighbor, Booth Wilkes-John.

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Photo: Earvin Johnson

Earvin "Magic" Johnson

NBA Legend, Hall of Famer, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
UB's 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Keynote Speaker

Thursday, February 12, 2015, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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NBA legend, two-time Hall of Famer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and motivational speaker are just a few honors of distinction possessed by Earvin "Magic" Johnson. The business mogul has successfully parlayed his skills and tenacity on the court into the business world, propelling his company to the status of No. 1 Urban Brand in America.

A former point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, he spent 13 seasons in the NBA. After winning championships in high school and college, Johnson was selected first overall in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Lakers. He won a championship and an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award in his rookie season, and won four more championships with the Lakers during the 1980s. Johnson retired abruptly in 1991 after announcing that he had contracted HIV, but returned to play in the 1992 All-Star Game, winning the All-Star MVP Award. He retired again for four years, but returned in 1996 and played 32 games for the Lakers before retiring for the third and final time.

Johnson was a three-time NBA MVP, made nine finals appearances and was named to 12 all-star teams. He was a member of the 1992 United States men's Olympic basketball team [The Dream Team] which won the Olympic gold medal in 1992. Johnson was named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996, and elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 for his individual career, and again in 2010 as a member of the Olympic team. The story of Johnson and Larry Bird's inspiring friendship and rivalry was unveiled April 2012 in "Magic & Bird" on Broadway.

Johnson is currently the Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises (MJE), which provides high quality products and services that focus primarily on ethnically diverse and underserved urban communities through strategic alliances, investments, consulting and endorsements. The conglomerate is comprised of multiple business entities and partnerships that include among others: Yucaipa Johnson, a $500 million dollar private equity fund; ASPIRE, an African-American television network; SodexoMAGIC, a foodservice and facilities management company; Clear Health Alliance, a healthcare provider with a specialty plan for HIV/AIDS patients; and Magic Airport Holdings including Magic Johnson Sports. Johnson also is part of a group of investors that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2014.

Johnson serves as Chairman and Founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation, where his unwavering commitment to transform Urban America continues through HIV/AIDS Awareness & Prevention Programs, Community Empowerment Centers, and the Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program. The Magic Johnson Foundation has become one of the most recognizable philanthropic organizations around the world.

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Photo: Robert Ballard

Robert Ballard

Oceanographer, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Discoverer of the Titanic

Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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Best known for his 1985 discovery of the Titanic, Robert Ballard has succeeded in tracking down numerous other significant shipwrecks, including the German battleship Bismarck, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the U.S. aircraft carrier Yorktown (sunk in the World War II Battle of Midway), and John F. Kennedy's boat, PT-109.

While those discoveries have captured the imagination of the public, Ballard believes his most important discoveries were of hydrothermal vents and "black smokers" in the Galapagos Rift and East Pacific Rise in 1977 and 1979 along with their exotic life forms living off the energy of the Earth through a process now called chemosynthesis.

In addition to being a National Geographic Society Explorer-In-Residence and a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Ballard is the founder and President of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, CT.

Ballard has a Ph.D. in marine geology and geophysics from the University of Rhode Island. He spent 30 years at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he helped develop telecommunications technology to create "tele-presence" for his JASON Project, which allows hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to accompany him from afar on undersea explorations around the globe each year. In 2001, he returned to the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island where he is presently a tenured Professor of Oceanography and Director of the Center for Ocean Exploration.

Ballard has 20+ honorary degrees and six military awards. He was also a Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving in the Navy from 1967 to 1997. He received the National Geographic Society's prestigious Hubbard Medal in 1996 for "extraordinary accomplishments in coaxing secrets from the world's oceans and engaging students in the wonder of science." Ballard has published numerous books and scientific papers, and several articles in National Geographic magazine. Ballard also has been featured in several National Geographic television programs, including the record-breaking "Secrets of the Titanic." His 1997 bestselling book, "Lost Liners," tells the story of the great transatlantic liners through memorable wrecks he has visited. Ballard was also a special advisor on Steven Spielberg's futuristic "Sea Quest," DSV television show.

Ballard's current ship of exploration, E/V Nautilus operated by his Ocean Exploration Trust, beams back his exploration around the clock on the Nautilus Live website.

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Photo: Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak

Co-founder of Apple Computer, Inc. and Chief Scientist of Fusion-io
Graduate Student Choice Speaker

Wednesday, April 29, 2015, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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A Silicon Valley icon and philanthropist for more than thirty years, Steve Wozniak has helped shape the computing industry with his design of Apple's first line of products, the Apple I and II, and influenced the popular Macintosh. In 1976, Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer Inc. with Wozniak's Apple I personal computer. The following year, he introduced his Apple II personal computer, featuring a central processing unit, a keyboard, color graphics, and a floppy disk drive. The Apple II was integral in launching the personal computer industry.

In 1981, he went back to UC Berkeley and finished his degree in electrical engineering/computer science. For his achievements at Apple, Wozniak was awarded the National Medal of Technology by the President of the United States in 1985, the highest honor bestowed on America's leading innovators.

In 2000, he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and was awarded the prestigious Heinz Award for Technology, Economy and Employment for single-handedly designing the first personal computer and for then redirecting his lifelong passion for mathematics and electronics toward lighting the fires of excitement for education in grade school students and their teachers. In 2014, he received the prestigious Hoover Medal, which is an American engineering prize for "outstanding extra-career services by engineers to humanity." The prize is given jointly by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Through the years, Wozniak has been involved in various business and philanthropic ventures, focusing primarily on computer capabilities in schools and stressing hands-on learning and encouraging creativity for students. Making significant investments of both his time and resources in education, he adopted the Los Gatos School District, providing students and teachers with hands-on teaching and donations of state-of-the- art technology equipment. He founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was the founding sponsor of the Tech Museum, Silicon Valley Ballet and Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose.

Wozniak currently serves as Chief Scientist for Fusion-io and is a published author with the release of his New York Times bestselling autobiography, "iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon," in September 2006 by Norton Publishing. His television appearances include reality shows "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List," ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" and "The Big Bang Theory."

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