​Laverne Cox, John Legend to headline UB’s 29th Distinguished Speakers Series

Kevin Spacey, Siddhartha Mukherjee also among six people to speak at UB this year

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An award-winning actor, a prolific music artist and a premier transgender activist will grace Alumni Arena this upcoming year to share their stories, experiences and lessons with the UB student body.

Actor Kevin Spacey, singer/producer John Legend and transgender advocate/actress Laverne Cox will headline the 29th annual UB Distinguished Speakers Series throughout the 2015-16 school year. Author Liz Murray, theorist Charles Ogletree Jr. and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and physician Siddhartha Mukherjee were also chosen as keynote speakers.

Cox is well known for her portrayal as Sophia Burset in the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” but is revered for her work as an advocate in the transgender community. Cox was one of the first public openly transgender figures in the United States and has risen in popularity in recent months with the public transformation of Caitlyn Jenner. She was also the first transgender woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted TV show.

Spacey is a two-time Academy Award winner for his roles in “American Beauty” (2000) and “The Usual Suspects” (1996) and is currently well-known as Francis Underwood in the hit Netflix series “House of Cards.” Spacey, 55, has also starred in critically acclaimed films such as “21,” “Horrible Bosses” and “Pay it Forward.”

Legend has risen to become one of the top artists in the music industry. Legend rose to superstardom with his hit “All of Me,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard top 100. He has since released numerous hits such as “You & I” and “Tonight” featuring Ludacris. He also won an Academy Award this past year for his song “Glory” in the movie “Selma.”

Murray makes her living on telling her story of living with cocaine-addicted parents and succumbing to homelessness at the age of 15, before finishing high school in just two years and eventually receiving acceptance to Harvard University. Her story was the topic of the made-for-TV movie, “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story” and Murray released her memoir, "Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard," in 2010. Murray is the UB Reads selection.

Ogletree is the first-ever Jesse Climenko Professor at Harvard Law School, a distinction which recognizes a person that represents practical aspects of law, such as research, writing and litigation. He has held the position since 1992, and has been teaching at Harvard since 1984. He also taught President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama during their times at Harvard and has remained close to the Obama family during their political careers.

Mukherje is a cancer researcher and physician. He is well known for his work on the book “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” a discussion of the future of cancer treatments, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011. The book was widely lauded across the country and was listed in “The 10 Best Books in 2010.” He is currently the assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University.

Each event will take place in Alumni Arena on UB’s North Campus and will begin at 8 p.m.

The full list of the UB Distinguished Speakers and dates:

Laverne Cox – Sept. 16, 2015

Liz Murray – Oct. 14, 2015

John Legend (Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker) – Nov. 18, 2015

Charles J. Ogletree Jr. (Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Speaker) – Feb. 11, 2016

Siddhartha Mukherjee – April 6, 2016

Kevin Spacey – April 27, 2016


Jordan Grossman is co-senior sports editor. Questions or comments related to this article can be directed to news@ubspectrum.com