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 meant to  promote engaged and enlightened leadership and 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 include Pulitzer Prize Winner Isabel Wilkerson, social entrepreneur and founder of Goodr Jasmine Crowe-Houston, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson, and the Founding Mothers of NPR Susan Stamberg and Linda Wertheimer.


Pulitzer Prize Winner Isabel Wilkerson discussed 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 offered 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.


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 New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Nobel Peace Laureate Maria Ressa, and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.


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. 


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 computer scientist and author Cal Newport, visual artist and social activist Frederica Donato, and VP for U.S. Social Impact on Sesame Street Dr. Jeanette Betancourt. 


Georgetown computer science professor and bestselling author Cal Newport (Deep WorkDigital MinimalismA World Without Email l) examined the collisions of technology and society.

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 legal scholar, professor, and author Adam Benforado, environmental justice advocates Raya Slater and Rev Dr. Ben Chavis, and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Christine S. Wilson.


Adam Benforado, prominent legal scholar, author, and professor known for his insightful explorations of the intersections between law, psychology, and society, spoke as part of the Wilson Distinguished Lecture Series. 

Student Reflections

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

Student Reflects on Pulitzer Prize Winner Isabel Wilkerson

Student Talks Climate with Member of Council on Foreign Relations

Student Inspired by Pioneering Lawyer Bryan Stevenson

Student Leads Session with Senior Biden Advisor

Student Connects with Founder of Art4Humanity

Students Meet Courageous Nobel Peace Prize Winner