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Distinguished Speaker Series

Western Carolina University's Distinguished Lecture Series is pairing national topics and high-profile speakers to engage students, campus, and our community.

Each speaker will bring unique perspectives from leaders in education, arts, music, politics and more. Students can also earn DegreePlus credit from most events in the Distinguished Lecture Series.

Join us as we connect with the people who are shaping the nation. All speaker events are free and open to the public.

2018-2019 Schedule

The Honorable Loretta Lynch - Tuesday, September 18th

5-6pm at the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center

Loretta Lynch


One of the most highly accomplished public figures in America today, Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch has been a leading progressive voice during her 30+ year highly distinguished career.

She is the first female African American Attorney General of the United States, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015. She also served as the head of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York twice, under both President Clinton and President Obama. Described by President Obama as "the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters, drug lords, and terrorists, and still has the reputation for being a charming 'people person," she has been instrumental in shaping the direction of the nation on a number of tough issues. She improved the relationship between local law enforcement and the communities they serve, and she has taken bold stances on criminal justice reform.

Lynch has spent years in the trenches rising through the ranks as a prosecutor, aggressively fighting terrorism, financial fraud, and cybercrime -- all while vigorously defending civil and human rights.

While leading the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, she became known for the high-profile civil rights conviction of two Brooklyn police officers who brutally assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.
While in private practice, Lynch served as a volunteer legal advisor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, established to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations in the 1994 genocide in that nation.

Born in Greensboro, NC, the daughter of a school librarian and fourth generation Baptist minister, Lynch was also inspired by stories about her grandfather, a sharecropper in the 1930s, who helped members of his community who had no recourse under the Jim Crow system.

Ken Langone - Monday, October 22nd

Ken Langone


5-6:15pm in the A.K Hinds University Center Grand Room

Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and co-founder of Home Depot, Ken Langone will join Dr. Edward Lopez of the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise for a Fireside Chat. Langone will discuss his experience in entrepreneurship, as well as stories and ideas from his new memoir, I Love Capitalism: An American Story.

"There's one important point I want to make right at the beginning of this book," Langone writes in his 2018 memoir, "The thing I can't say and never will say is that I'm self-made."

Growing up poor in WWII-era Roslyn Heights, New York, Ken Langone has gone onto major success as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and television commentator. His career in finance began as a salesman, matching business ideas with financiers. In 1974 he started his own investment firm, Invemed, and in 1979 Ken arranged financing for he and two business partners to co-found The Home Depot. By 1989 Home Depot was the nation's largest home improvement store and today employs over 380,000 associates across 2,000 U.S. locations.

With his wife Elaine, both devout Roman Catholics, Ken has made major philanthropic donations to universities, medical schools, hospitals, and children groups including Ronald McDonald House, Robin Hood Foundation, Promise Academy, and more.

Michael Steele - Tuesday, February 12th

Michael Steele


5-6pm at the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center

Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee, and former Lieutenant governor of Maryland, and the first African American elected to statewide office in Maryland. Until recently he was President and CEO of The Steele Group, a consulting firm working with institutional and individual clients to design overall business development, investor, networking, and communications strategies.

Mr. Steele is currently a political analyst for MSNBC. Mr. Steele's ability as a communicator and analyst have long been showcased by his position as a contributor on the Fox News Channel and as a regular host for the Salem Radio Network's nationally syndicated Morning in America Show. Additionally, Mr. Steele has been an entertaining and eloquent guest on cable political talk shows such as HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher and Comedy Central's Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

As chairman of the RNC, Mr. Steele was charged with revitalizing the Republican Party. A self-described "Lincoln Republican," under Steele's leadership the RNC broke fundraising records (over $198 million raised during the 2010 Congressional cycle) and Republicans won 63 House seats, the biggest pickup since 1938. His commitment to grassroots organization and party building at the state and local levels produced 12 governorships and the greatest share of state legislative seats since 1928 (over 600 seats).

As Lt. Governor of Maryland, Mr. Steele's priorities included reforming the state's Minority Business Enterprise program, improving the quality of Maryland's public education system (he championed the State's historic Charter School law), expanding economic development in the state and fostering cooperation between government and faith-based organizations to help those in need.

Mr. Steele writes a regular column for The and and his writings on law, business and politics have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times,,, The Journal of International Security Affairs and Catholic University Law Review, among others. He is the recent author of Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda, which is a call to arms for grassroots America.

Born at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Maryland, Mr. Steele was raised in Washington, DC. He spent three years in the Order of St. Augustine in preparation for the priesthood. He is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University ('81'), Georgetown Law Center ('91), and an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow in Public Leadership. Mr. Steele is a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Landover Hills, MD, where he attends mass regularly with his wife Andrea.

Cristina Henríquez - Thursday, March 21st

7:30pm-9pm in the A.K Hinds University Center Grand Room

Author Cristina Henriquez


The 2018 One Book Selection, The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez was chosen for its tremendous interdisciplinary potential and the meaningful conversation it will inspire about topics that matter.

Cristina Henríquez is the author of The Book of Unknown Americans, which was a New York Times Notable Book of 2014 and one of Amazon's 10 Best Books of the Year. It was the Daily Beast Novel of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, an NPR Great Read, a Target Book of the Month selection, and was chosen one of the best books of the year by BookPage,, and School Library Journal. It was also longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

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