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.


Lecturer Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, an international social justice philanthropy.


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.


Past speaker Alice Hill, currently serves as senior fellow for climate change policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and previously served as Special Assistant to President Barack Obama. 


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.


Nadia Murad spoke shortly after she was named winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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.


Past speaker Dikgang Moseneke was incarcerated at Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela. As Deputy Chief Justice he helped draft the country’s interim constitution after the fall of the apartheid government. 

Featured Video

2020 Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture

Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, an international social justice philanthropy with a $13 billion endowment and $600 million in annual grant making. He chaired the philanthropy committee that brought a resolution to the city of Detroit's historic bankruptcy and is co-founder and chair of the US Impact Investing Alliance. He delivered the 2020 Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture.

Featured Video

Distinguished Lecture: Student Perspective

Akiya Dillon is pursuing a certificate in Policy Journalism and Media Studies at Sanford. As a part of her studies, Akiyah had a chance to meet ith pioneering lawyer Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson founded a human rights organization that has won reversals, relief, or release from prison for 135+ wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. His critically acclaimed book Just Mercy was adapted as a major motion picture.