Speakers and Awardees
Keynote Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient
Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.
Mr. Stevenson has argued and won multiple cases at the United States Supreme Court, including a 2019 ruling protecting condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger. Mr. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief, or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.
Mr. Stevenson has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge inequality in America. He led the creation of two highly acclaimed cultural sites which opened in 2018: the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. These new national landmark institutions chronicle the legacy of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation, and the connection to mass incarceration and contemporary issues of racial bias.
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Mr. Stevenson’s work has won him numerous awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize; the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor; the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union after he was nominated by United States Supreme Court Justice John Stevens; the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers; and the Olaf Palme Prize in Stockholm, Sweden, for international human rights. In 2002, he received the Alabama State Bar Commissioners Award. In 2003, the SALT Human Rights Award was presented to Mr. Stevenson by the Society of American Law Teachers. In 2004, he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and also the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild. In 2006, New York University presented Mr. Stevenson with its Distinguished Teaching Award. Mr. Stevenson won the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize and was awarded the NAACP William Robert Ming Advocacy Award, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award, and the Roosevelt Institute Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award. In 2012, Mr. Stevenson received the American Psychiatric Association Human Rights Award, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Fred L. Shuttlesworth Award, and the Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award in Social Progress. Mr. Stevenson was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2014 and won the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize. In 2015, he was named to the Time 100 list recognizing the world’s most influential people. In 2016, he received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award. He was named in Fortune’s 2016 and 2017 World’s Greatest Leaders list. He received the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize from the King Center in Atlanta in 2018.
Mr. Stevenson has received over 40 honorary doctoral degrees, including degrees from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Oxford University. He is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, which was named by Time Magazine as one of the 10 Best Books of Nonfiction for 2014 and has been awarded several honors, including the American Library Association’s Carnegie Medal for best nonfiction book of 2015 and a 2015 NAACP Image Award. Just Mercy was recently adapted as a major motion picture. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government.
Honorary Degree Recipients
Muriel Elizabeth Bowser
Muriel Bowser is the seventh elected mayor of Washington, D.C. She has a strong record of creating a bold urban policy agenda, making tough decisions in a high stakes environment, and shaping a diverse economy.
Mayor Bowser has served her hometown in elected office since 2004 as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (2004-2006), Member of the D.C. Council (2007-2015) and now Mayor since 2015. On November 8, she became only the second person elected three times as mayor of Washington, D.C. She is the first African American woman to be elected to three, four-year terms as mayor of an American city.
Since taking office, Mayor Bowser has boldly reset D.C.’s global and national competitiveness, sped up affordable housing production, diversified the D.C. economy, oversaw consistent enrollment growth across the District’s public schools to its highest enrollment since Home Rule, increased satisfaction in city services, refocused efforts around achieving statehood, and invested in programs and policies that allow more families to live and thrive across the city.
Mayor Bowser has played key roles in delivering transformational economic development projects, creating jobs and housing for D.C. residents—including the Audi Field, the Entertainment and Sports Arena, St. Elizabeths, Walter Reed, McMillan, and The Wharf.
She is a graduate of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and of Leadership Greater Washington. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Chatham University and a Master of Public Policy from the American University.
Mike Milken has been at the forefront of successful initiatives in medical research, education, public health and access to capital for more than five decades. Fortune called him “The Man Who Changed Medicine,” and Forbes listed him among “Visionaries Reimagining Our Children’s Future.” In 1982, he formalized his philanthropy by co-founding the Milken Family Foundation. In addition to its annual Global Conference each spring in Los Angeles, the Milken Institute hosts more than 250 events annually, including major conferences in Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Japan, London and Washington, D.C. The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University was established with an Institute gift, and the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream will open in Washington, D.C., in 2024.
Mike is the founder and chairman of FasterCures, which works to speed progress against all life-threatening diseases. HarperCollins recently published his latest book, Faster Cures: Accelerating the Future of Health, which chronicles his personal journey and progress in medical research and public health over the past half century. As a financier, Mike revolutionized modern capital markets by pricing and rewarding risk more efficiently; the thousands of companies he financed created millions of jobs, including much of the early growth of cable television, homebuilding, cellular phones and other industries. A Washington Post column said Mike “helped create the conditions for America’s explosion of wealth and creativity” in the late 20th century, a process that BusinessWeek said, “shook America’s defeatist establishment out of its gloom.”
A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, he earned his M.B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He and his wife Lori have been married since 1968 and are members of the Giving Pledge; they have three children and 10 grandchildren.
President's Medal Recipients
Dr. Mary Ellsberg is the Founding Director of the Global Women's Institute at the George Washington University, a university- wide institute dedicated to producing policy-oriented research to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Dr. Ellsberg is recognized as a leading global expert on violence against women and girls (VAWG) and currently leads the research consortium of “What Works to Prevent Violence–Impact at Scale,” a major international partnership that aims to build the global knowledge on what works to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG), funded by the U.K. Government.
Before joining the university in August 2012, Dr. Ellsberg served as Vice President for Research and Programs at the International Center for Research on Women. Dr. Ellsberg’s deep connection to global gender issues stems not only from her academic work but also from living in Nicaragua for nearly 20 years, leading public health and women’s rights advocacy. Dr. Ellsberg earned a doctorate in epidemiology and public health from Umea University in Sweden and a bachelor's degree in Latin American studies from Yale University.
Walter Reich is the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Professor of International Affairs, Ethics and Human Behavior, and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the George Washington University. He is also a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Yale, and a former Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Dr. Reich has written and lectured widely on the Holocaust and genocide, antisemitism, terrorism, human rights, national memory, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union, medical ethics and national and international affairs. He is the author of A Stranger in My House: Jews and Arabs in the West Bank and the editor of Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, States of Mind. His articles and essays have appeared in scholarly and scientific publications as well as in such newspapers and magazines as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic Monthly.
Dr. Reich has worked for the protection of human rights around the world since the early 1970s, including as a co-chair of the Committee of Concerned Scientists; has been a non-resident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution; was a Senior Research Psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health; and serves on many national and international professional and scholarly boards. His numerous awards include the Human Rights Award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a Special Presidential Commendation from the American Psychiatric Association.
Dr. Reich received his B.A. from Columbia College in 1965, studied philosophy as a graduate student at Columbia, received his M.D. from the New York University School of Medicine in 1970 and did his residency in psychiatry at Yale.
Frank Sesno is a professor and Director of Strategic Initiatives for the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University. Previously, he served as Director for SMPA. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and creator of Planet Forward, a user-driven multimedia storytelling platform that highlights innovations in sustainability. He has taught classes on environmental multimedia reporting, ethics in journalism, documentary and “the art of the interview.”
Sesno's diverse career spans more than three decades, including 21 years at CNN, where he served as White House correspondent, anchor and Washington Bureau Chief. He has covered a diverse range of subjects, from politics and conventions to international summits and climate change. He has interviewed five U.S. presidents and thousands of political, business and civic leaders, including Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, and Walter Cronkite.
Before joining CNN in 1984, Sesno worked as a radio correspondent at the White House and in London for the Associated Press. Along with his Emmy, he has won several prestigious journalistic awards, including several cable ACE awards and an Overseas Press Club Award.
Sesno has served as a member of the board of trustees at Middlebury College, a member of the National Advisory Board for the Poynter Institute, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a board member at the National Council for Science and the Environment and at AmeriCares. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in American History from Middlebury College.
Giselle Elisa Garcia, CCAS '23
Giselle Elisa Garcia is a senior criminal justice major with double minors in psychology and STEM teaching.
A New York native and the child of a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father, Garcia is deeply committed to dismantling systems of oppression and injustice. She has worked as an intern and field organizer for multiple political campaigns and organizations, including Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey; Carolyn Bordeaux for Congress; Alianza, the first Afro LatinX organization at GW; and LatinoJustice PRLDEF, or the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. Garcia has also worked with the GW Teach program, teaching second and eleventh grade science classes at local schools. Read more here.