The Sanford School brings a variety of high-profile speakers to Duke each year with the goal of connecting students and faculty to thought leaders. These lectures and events are free and open to the public. Several of our recurring series are supported by endowment funds.


Endowed by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, this prestigious lecture – Sanford’s longest-running series – facilitates addresses from “men and women of the highest personal and professional stature, such as presidents, prime ministers and cabinet members, chief executive officers of corporations, visionary artists, and esteemed scholars.”

The lectures are open to the public as well as Duke University students and are meant to  promote engaged and enlightened leadership. They are held in honor of the late Terry Sanford, a bold leader who served as North Carolina governor, U.S. senator, president of Duke University, and founder of our school.

Previous lecturers have included former heads of state, sitting cabinet members, and Pulitzer prize-winning authors. They include William Barber, Dan Blue, Derek Bok, Erskine Bowles, David BrooksThomas L. Friedman, Nikki Haley, Jon Huntsman Jr., Nan Keohane, Joseph Lieberman, Neal Lane, Richard Lugar, Lisa Monaco, Robert McNamara, Janet Napolitano, Yasuhiro Nakasone, Turgut Ozal, Shimon Peres, Tom Perez, Gail Rosseau, Oscar Arias Sánchez, Adam Schiff, Rajeev Shah, Alan Simpson, Shashi Tharoor, Darren Walker and Juan Zarate.


Pulitzer Prize Winner Isabel Wilkerson discusses the history and consequences of our country’s centuries-old hierarchies and the ways in which we all have been affected by these embedded divisions.  She offers a holistic approach to understanding ourselves and our society and shares urgent insights into our current era of rupture and uncertainty, pointing toward hope in our common humanity. RSVP for the February 22 lecture.


Named for benefactor David M. Rubenstein, a Duke alumnus and former chair of Duke’s Board of Trustees, this endowed lecture series brings high-profile thought leaders and policy makers to campus each year. Previous speakers include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; and Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health.

Upcoming talks through the Rubenstein Lecture Series include Nicholas Kristof (February 5) and Maria Ressa (February 8).


Nobel Peace Prize winner, journalist, co-founder and CEO of Rappler, Maria Ressa spoke about her thoughts on the intersection of fake news, freedom of expression, human rights, and where journalism is heading today. Recap


Named for benefactor Lester Crown, the lecture was established to bring speakers to Duke to discuss ethical concerns in the arts, sciences, medicine, business and other fields. It was conceived of as a centerpiece in the Sanford School’s efforts to focus student, faculty and public opinion on the critical importance of ethical decision-making in the professions and public life.

Crown is an enterprising businessman, active civic leader and chairman emeritus of Henry Crown and Company. Previous Crown lecturers include Bill Bradley, Jared Diamond, Shirin Ebadi, Marian Wright EdelmanHoward Gardner, Tony Kushner, Paul Rusesabagina, Julian Savulescu, Rebecca Skloot and Jody Williams.


Visual artist and social activist Federica Donato's talk included an art exhibit. Donato, the founder of Art4Humanity, spoke to the deep intersection of art and policy, and her focus on championing human rights globally.

The Wilson Lecture

The Robert R. Wilson Distinguished Lecture was endowed by a gift to Duke to highlight important conversations in public law. Speakers have included Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Christine S. Wilson; South African freedom fighter and former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke and Ian Haney López, the John H. Boalt Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.


Join us to hear from New York Times bestseller, and Professor of Law, Adam Benforado, as he speaks about current policies surrounding children's rights and how we can better support children socially, economically, and politically. RSVP for the March 7 lecture.

Student Reflections

Distinguished Lectures are often the highlight of the semester. Three students reflect on recent lectures.

Matthew Vining Talks Climate Change with Alice Hill

Akiya Dillon is Inspired by Pioneering Lawyer Bryan Stevenson

Jordan Wilson Leads Small Group including Senior Biden Advisor

Amanda Ostuni Connects With Founder of Art4Humanity