2020 Keynote Speakers

Keynote Speakers

Michelle Obama | First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017

Michelle Robinson Obama served as First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017, transforming the position and becoming a role model, champion and inspiration for women, families, and young people across America and around the world.

As First Lady, Mrs. Obama launched and led four key initiatives:

  • Let’s Move! brought together community leaders, educators, medical professionals, parents, celebrities and others in a nationwide effort to address the challenge of childhood obesity
  • Joining Forces, which she launched with Dr. Jill Biden, called on all Americans to rally around service members, veterans, and their families and support them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities
  • Reach Higher aimed to inspire young people across America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university
  • Let Girls Learn, focused on helping adolescent girls around the world go to school.

Mrs. Obama attended Chicago public schools until enrolling in Princeton where she studied sociology and African American studies. She graduated cum laude from Princeton in 1985 and received a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. She then joined the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she met her future husband, Barack Obama.

Following her time at Sidley & Austin, Mrs. Obama served as an assistant to Mayor Richard Daley and as Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development for the city of Chicago, before becoming the founding Executive Director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program that prepares young people for public service careers.

As part of her continued focus on community service and engagement, Mrs. Obama joined the University of Chicago in 1996 as its Associate Dean of Student Services focused on fostering connections between the campus and community. She also served as Vice President of Community and External Affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

In 2018, Michelle Obama published her memoir, Becoming, which sold more copies than any other book published in the United States in 2018, achieving that status in just 15 days and instantly rising to the #1 slot on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Mrs. Obama was born on January 17, 1964. She married Barack Obama in 1992. They currently live in Washington, DC and have two daughters, Malia and Sasha.

John Kerry | 68th Secretary of State (2013-2017)

On February 1, 2013, John Forbes Kerry was sworn in as the 68th Secretary of State of the United States,becoming the first sitting Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman to serve as Secretary in over a century. Kerry drew from this experience to provide the State Department with global stewardship on issues ranging from nuclear nonproliferation to radical extremists, to humanitarian challenges and the rising threat of climate change.

In 2013, Kerry became the first Secretary of State to meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister since the Iranian revolution of 1979. This meeting was the highest-level U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran in more than six years, and a key moment on the journey towards the eventual signing of the landmark 2015 agreement to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

Faced with the rising threat of global climate change, Kerry was also a key architect of the Paris Climate Accord, signing the historic agreement to reduce carbon emissions in 2016.

Kerry drew upon a lifetime of public service during his tenure as Secretary.

Shortly before he graduated from Yale University, Kerry volunteered for service in the United States Navy. He completed two tours of duty in Vietnam, including serving as a Swift Boat skipper patrolling the rivers of the Mekong Delta. Lt. Kerry returned home from service in Vietnam with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Combat V, and three Purple Hearts.

Back in the United States, Kerry felt compelled to speak out against the war in which he had served. Testifying at the invitation of Chairman J. William Fulbright before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he would chair 38 years later, he asked the poignant question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” He also began a lifelong fight for his fellow veterans as a co-founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America, and later as a Senator who fought to secure veterans’ benefits, extension of the G.I. Bill for Higher Education, and improved treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

After receiving his law degree from Boston College Law School in 1976, Kerry went to work as a top prosecutor in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, where he took on organized crime, fought for victims’ rights, and created programs for rape counseling. He was elected Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1982 and was elected to the United States Senate two years later.

In 2009, Kerry became Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, assuming a leadership role on key foreign policy and national security issues facing the United States, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, China, nuclear nonproliferation, and global climate change.

In addition to his 28 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry also held senior positions on the Finance, Commerce, and Small Business committees. He served as a member of the bipartisan Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, where he worked across party lines to try and reduce the country’s debt and strengthen our economy. Prior to his departure from the Senate, Kerry was the seventh-most senior Senator.