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Pittsburgh Speakers Series Announces 2011-2012 Season

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pittsburgh --  The Pittsburgh Speakers Series has lined up an impressive list of authors, journalists, activists, leaders and other renowned personalities to participate in its tenth season. The series, presented by Robert Morris University, will close with one of the most trusted figures in broadcasting, Tom Brokaw. The 2011-2012 season was announced at yesterday evening’s event featuring political commentator Mark Shields.

Held at Heinz Hall, the series will begin on Oct. 12, 2011 with distinguished historian Ron Chernow, followed by former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee; former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson; sustainable food activist Michael Pollan; author and professor Azar Nafisi; former U.S. military commander Stanley McChrystal and legendary broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw.

“We are pleased to once again present a spectacular season of authors, historians and leaders to our Pittsburgh audience,” said RMU President Gregory G. Dell’Omo. "Each of the magnificent speakers lined-up for this season will have subscribers on the edge of their seats with their enthralling and fascinating stories and experiences. What many look forward to most about the evenings with our speakers is the opportunity for follow-up questions after the presentations. It’s as if you’re spending an evening alone with these celebrated personalities.”

“The speakers series is a remarkable opportunity for the students, faculty, alumni, and the Pittsburgh community to gain insight from these brilliant individuals,” said Dell’Omo. “This is one of the strongest seasons yet and each of these inspiring speakers is a headliner in his or her own right. We are thrilled to have the series back for a tenth season.”

Speaking on Oct. 12, Ron Chernow has been dubbed “America’s best business biographer” by Fortune Magazine. A National Book Award winner, Chernow has profiled the lives of financial titans such as J.P. Morgan, the Warburgs, John D. Rockefeller and Alexander Hamilton. His first novel, “The House of Morgan,” was voted one of the top 100 non-fiction books published in the twentieth century by The Modern Library Board. He will discuss his most recent work, “Washington: A Life,” which was released last Fall.

Other speakers include:

* Nov. 2 – Michelle Rhee, an outspoken advocate for school reform, founded The New Teacher Project in 1997, which has recruited 23,000 new teachers across the country. Under her leadership as Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, the worst performing school district in the country at the time, saw double-digit growth in state reading and math scores among seventh, eighth and tenth graders. Rhee most recently founded StudentsFirst, an organization aiming to raise $1 billion to reform education in the nation.

* Nov. 21 – She was a covert CIA operative and he was the American Ambassador to Africa and Iraq. His 2003 New York Times op-ed piece suggesting the Iraqi nuclear threat had been exaggerated allegedly resulted in the exposure of her identity as a CIA agent working in counter-proliferation. Former American diplomat, Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife, former covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson will illustrate their enthralling story, which was told in the motion picture “Fair Game” starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.

* Jan. 18, 2012 – Michael Pollan has been named as one of the Top 10 New Thought Leaders by Newsweek and was named to the 2010 TIME 100 list. He’s written four New York Times Best-sellers, including his most recent work “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.” For the past 25 years, Pollan has been exploring and writing about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect. He also appeared in the Academy Award nominated documentary, “Food Inc.”

* Feb. 29, 2012 – Azar Nafisi is the highly acclaimed author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” which spent 117 weeks on The New York Times Best-seller list and has been translated into 32 languages. The book paints a vivid portrait of the Islamic revolution in Iran and its effect on Nafisi as a secular woman and professor. Nafisi, who has written articles for The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, is the executive director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.

* March 28, 2012 – Stanley McChrystal, a former four-star general in the United States Army, is widely admired for his candor and leadership skills. His last assignment as Commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan earned him praise as “one of America’s greatest warriors” by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

* April 26, 2012 – One of the most trusted and respected figures in television, legendary journalist Tom Brokaw will discuss his career in broadcast news, which spans nearly five decades and ranges from reporting on the civil rights movement in Atlanta to serving as NBC’s White House correspondent during Watergate. Best known for his more than 20 years as anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, Brokaw has interviewed every president since Lyndon B. Johnson and has traveled the world to cover international stories. The best-selling author of “The Greatest Generation,” Brokaw has received numerous awards, including an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement and was inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

All of the presentations, with the exception of the Wilsons’ and Brokaw’s, will take place on Wednesday nights at Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are sold by subscription and prices range from $285 to $420 per person. Interested parties are encouraged to contact the ticket office as soon as possible to order their seats. For more information, visit or call 412.392.4900. A limited number of individual tickets are available for sale to RMU alumni only. Contact

Presented by RMU, the series also is sponsored by The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and WQED.