Each year, a speaker is selected for a public lecture and discussion that honors Louis J. Gambaccini’s legacy by focusing on timely and enduring issues of great significance, with the objective of generating real civil discourse and action.
2021-2022: A Conversation with Andrew Peng
Rutgers alum and founder of The Yappie Andrew Peng discussed his story of civic engagement and political empowerment through journalism.
“It is the role of media to provide perspective on certain issues that otherwise aren’t really covered… When we talk about issues like immigration, abortion, housing, poverty, those don’t immediately come to mind as issues [affecting Asian communities], but when you look at the actual data you see that these are very niche issues that have huge impacts on our community. It’s just that it hasn’t been covered a lot. It’s important to not only to inform, but also educate and empower.”
2020-2021: A Conversation with LaTosha Brown
Black Voters Matter Co-Founder LaTosha Brown discussed her story of civic engagement and political empowerment with political strategist, Marilyn D. Davis.
“If we are serious about creating a nation that is a post-racial America, a nation that is void of racism, the first thing that we have to do is spend some time radically reimagining what that is. There is nothing that has been brought into the physical world that was not first envisioned… Part of what has inspired this work is that there was always a song in my heart to want freedom.”
2020-2021: Trans Visibility and Empowerment 2020: A Conversation with Minneapolis Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
Minneapolis Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, the first African American openly trans woman to be elected to office in the United States, spoke with the Rutgers community during Transgender Awareness Week.
“No one ever really thinks about the sheer strength of will, resilience, and quite frankly resistance that transgender people exhibit every day… I came to the decision that we have to have a voice in what happens in our communities – and not only just have a voice, but we must have a seat at the table and be able to drive the conversation.”
2020-2021: A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream
Dr. Yuval Levin discussed his book, A Time to Build, and his views on the social crisis Americans are facing today as a result of culture wars and political polarization. Dr. Levin is the director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute
“We’re living in a moment where there is a social crisis in American life. We can see that in the polarization and breakdown in our politics, we can see it in the intensity of some of our cultural debates, we can see it in people’s private lives… These problems are connected. They all strike me as forms of alienation – a sense that we are somehow disconnected from the larger society that serves other people but not us. That frustration… is a big part of what underlies the frustration of our politics – left and right.” Levin continued.
2018—2019: Rethinking Identity with The New York Times Ethicist Kwame Anthony Appiah
New York University Professor and The New York Times Ethicist Kwame Anthony Appiah explored some of the changes and challenges in American politics as discussed in his book, The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.
“Sensible discussions about matters that profoundly engage our passions are essential if we are to live together in concord…I hope to start conversations, not end them.”
–Kwame Anthony Appiah
2017—2018: Carrie Budoff Brown
Rutgers University and Eagleton alumna Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico editor, spoke about her career covering political news, how the news industry has changed since she began her career as a student journalist for The Daily Targum, and addressed the notion of “fake news.”
“We’re under a microscope. Our credibility is being questioned…At the same time, the best way to counter all of that [the notion that there is fake news] is by doing really good journalism and finding out facts, presenting it in a transparent way, providing the right context, and keep doing it every day.”
–Carrie Budoff Brown
2016—2017: Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell spoke about their graphic novel series, MARCH, at Rutgers University. Together, these three creators have turned John Lewisʹs memories of the civil rights movement into a record‐breaking graphic novel trilogy, MARCH. The trilogyʹs three parts occupied the top three spots on The New York Times Bestseller List for six weeks, and they have been oﬃcially adopted by public school systems from New York to San Francisco. MARCH is the ﬁrst graphic novel ever to win the National Book Award, and Book Three received four of the American Library Association’s major awards for youth literature, more than any book in history. The words and images of MARCH bring to life the story of John Lewis, the power of youth, and the power of nonviolence—making them accessible and urgently relevant to new generations.
2015—2016: Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor
In what must be counted as a highlight, not just of Eagleton’s 60th anniversary year, but of the Institute’s history, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to New Brunswick as the 2016 speaker for the Louis J. Gambaccini Civic Engagement Series. Sotomayor met with Eagleton Fellows and Undergraduate Associates for a Q and A session at Eagleton before heading to the Rutgers Athletic Center for a public conversation with Eagleton director Ruth B. Mandel. Sotomayor answered student questions before an audience of nearly 2,000. Sotomayor delighted the crowd with anecdotes about her life story (as told in My Beloved World, her best-selling memoir) and explanations of how she thinks about the law. The conversation began with Sotomayor and Mandel in chairs on the arena floor, but the Justice soon rose to get closer to the audience, climbing nearly to the top row of the Rutgers Athletic Center, video camera and security detail in tow.
2014—2015: #politics: Redefining Engagement via Digital Media
In a Gambaccini program co-sponsored by Eagleton’s Youth Political Participation Program (now known as the Center for Youth Political Participation) and the Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SC&I), four panelists, moderated by Melissa Aronczyk, assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at SC&I, discussed the opportunities and challenges involved in using digital media to connect people and politics. They described their varied routes to working in digital media and highlighted opportunities for empowerment through targeted use of new media.
The panel included: Dave Cole, former senior advisor to the White House chief information officer and deputy director of new media; Cammie Croft, deputy executive director of digital and strategic communications, Amnesty International USA; Sara Tabatabaie, special projects manager, Rock the Vote; and Eric Schmeltzer, communications and outreach consultant for the app, Countable.
2013—2014: Chris Matthews
In a wide-ranging conversation with Institute director Ruth B. Mandel, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews brought his trademark storytelling, strong opinions, and sense of humor to Rutgers, regaling a packed house with his observations about politics and civic engagement. It is Matthews’ belief that “If you believe in government, you’ve got the job of making it work,” and he cited numerous instances of what has and hasn’t worked in Washington. Many of his examples came from the relationship of former President Ronald Reagan and former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the subjects of Matthews’ recent book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. Touching on themes of the Gambaccini series, he owned up to being “inspired by politics and leadership — I get teary-eyed” and said “I respect anybody who has the guts to run for office.”
2012—2013: E.J. Dionne
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne spoke about reviving American democracy as part of the Louis J. Gambaccini Civic Engagement Series. He described the tension in American civic life between forces promoting individualism and liberty versus those advancing solidarity and community. Dionne suggested that the nation works best when it reflects a balance between those competing values.
2011—2012: Michael Dukakis
Eagleton was pleased and honored to welcome Michael S. Dukakis as the series’ inaugural speaker. Governor Dukakis, a champion of public transportation and former vice chairman of the Amtrak board, delivered an address about the current state of the nation’s rail transportation system. Following his talk, comments were offered by: Brendan T. Byrne, governor of New Jersey, 1974-1982; James J. Florio, governor of New Jersey, 1990-1994; Elizabeth C. Matto, director of Eagleton’s Youth Political Participation Program (now known as the Center for Youth Political Participation); and John Weingart, associate director, Eagleton Institute of Politics. Lou Gambaccini provided closing remarks about the event and his vision for the future of the program.