The Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture was endowed by a gift to Duke by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. Its purpose is to invite distinguished people in public life to speak to the Duke community. Sanford Lecturers are people 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.

Isabel wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents; Understanding the Invisible Scaffolding that Divides Us

February 22, 2024

As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is power — which groups have and which do not.”

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.  

Read a student perspective of the event.


Jasmine Crowe-Houston

Hungry for Change: Ending Food Waste

November 3, 2023

Jasmine Crowe-Houston, social entrepreneur, TED speaker, and founder and CEO of Goodr explained how she built a tech company to solve two of the world's biggest problems: hunger and food waste. She discussed the importance of partnerships aand highlighted Goodr's clients and their impact and shared her insights from leading a social impact company. Jasmine explained why there is a strong need for policy innovation to drive social change and her solutions to how we solve old problems -- it’s time to make a change! 

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Bryan stevenson

Standing for Equal Justice

September 22, 2022

The fall 2022 Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture featured Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a human rights organization in Montgomery, EJI has won reversals, relief, or release from prison for 135+ wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.  He is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, which was adapted as a major motion picture.  

Read student perspectives on the event here and here.

susan stamberg and linda wertheimer

A Conversation with the Founding Mothers of NPR

April 2022

Susan Stamberg and Linda Wertheimer joined Duke in celebrating 50 years of public policy education and scholarship in conversation with Frank Bruni, the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy. The Founding Mothers discussed how the media ecosystem has changed in the last 50 years and the future of journalism.


Darren Walker

Moving From Inequality to Justice in the South

January 2020

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 co-chairs New York City's Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, and serves on the Commission on the Future of Riker's Island Correctional Institution and the UN International Labor Organization Commission on the Future of Work. He also serves on the boards of Carnegie Hall, the High Line, VOW to End Child Marriage, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is the recipient of 13 honorary degrees and university awards.

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Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Seventeen Years at War

January 2019

General Stanley McChrystal, retired Commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan, revolutionized the way military agencies coordinate counter-terrorism efforts. McChrystal led the Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the military's most sensitive forces. His leadership of the JSOC is credited with the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and the death of the Iraqi Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006.

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John Koskinen

A Life of Public Service

January 2019

Koskinen led the Internal Revenue Service from 2013-2017, and was charged with restoring public confidence in the agency after a scandal. Previously, he headed the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac), President Clinton’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion (Y2K) and the U.S. Soccer Foundation. He also served as deputy director of the federal Office of Management and Budget and as the District of Columbia’s city administrator during the 9/11 attacks and afterwards. Besides his wide-ranging experience in the public sector, Koskinen’s career included 21 years in the private sector at the Palmieri Co., which specialized in turnaround management, including serving as president and CEO. Duke’s soccer and lacrosse venue, Koskinen Stadium, was named in honor of him and his wife, Patricia.

Tom Perez

Civil Rights and the People’s Party

April 2018

Tom Perez became chair of the DNC in January 2017. Since taking the helm, he has instituted the hiring of local organizers in all 50 states and seen Democrats make significant gains. Previously, he served in the Obama administration as the U.S. Secretary of Labor (2013-2017) where his priorities included securing collective bargaining rights, better wages and overtime pay, and more secure pensions. From 2009 to 2013, as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the U.S. Justice Department, Perez led numerous investigations into allegations of excessive force by police departments, as well as the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.

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Nikki Haley

Confronting Today’s Global Governance Challenges

April 2018

Nikki Haley was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and a member of President Trump’s Cabinet and National Security Council. As ambassador, Haley supported continued sanctions against Russia for its actions against Ukraine and programs in support of human rights. At the U.N. Security Council, she negotiated for the unanimous passage of the strongest sanctions ever placed on North Korea.

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Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

Poverty, Health and Social Justice

February 2018

Rev. Dr. William Barber founded the Forward Together Moral Movement that gained national acclaim with the Moral Monday protests at the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013. The protests drew thousands of people calling for the state government to embrace a moral public policy agenda, and resulted in 1,200 arrests. Barber is the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and served as President of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP from 2006-2017. Barber is President of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, a coalition of organizations fighting to end systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, environmental destruction and other injustices.

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Adam Schiff

Challenges to our National Security and Democracy

October 2017

Rep. Adam Schiff is the Ranking Member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This committee oversees the nation's intelligence agencies including components of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State and Energy, and is currently playing a leadership role in an investigation into Russia's active measures campaign targeting the 2016 election.

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Lisa Monaco

Counterterrorism in the Trump Era

September 2017

As the former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Lisa was responsible for policy coordination and crisis management on issues ranging from cybersecurity and natural disasters - Russian hacking of the election and the Ebola crisis - to terrorist attacks at home and abroad. Prior to the White House, Ms. Monaco spent 15 years at the Department of Justice, serving as a career federal prosecutor in the Justice Department and the FBI helping then Director Robert S. Mueller III transform the FBI after 9/11 into a national security organization focused on preventing terrorist attacks on the United States.

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Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence

March 2017

Sacks, a member of the British House of Lords and winner of the 2016 Templeton Prize in recognition of his "exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension," served as Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. He currently serves as the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. Sacks' most recent book, "Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence," examines the concept of "altruistic evil" and identifies the roots of faith-based violence in misreadings of key biblical texts.

Tom Ross

Divided We Fall: Restoring Trust in Our Democracy

December 2016

President emeritus of the UNC System, Tom Ross, discussed restoring trust in the basic structures and functions of democracy.

Mitch Landrieu

Transforming Cities Through Innovation

November 2016

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke about his role in reinvigorating the Louisiana port city. Landrieu was voted "America's top turnaround mayor" in a survey of mayors compiled by POLITICO Magazine. He first took office in 2010, and is serving his second term as the elected leader of the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and impacted by the BP oil rig explosion in 2010.