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Former U.S. ambassador, civil rights lawyer, two actors to headline Distinguished Speaker Series

Tickets available to students and the general public starting Sept. 13

<p>Ken Jeong will open the 2022-23 Distinguished Speaker Series on Tuesday, Oct. 11 in the UB Center for the Arts.&nbsp;</p>

Ken Jeong will open the 2022-23 Distinguished Speaker Series on Tuesday, Oct. 11 in the UB Center for the Arts. 

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Sherrilyn Ifill will headline UB’s 2022-23 Distinguished Speaker Series alongside actors Ken Jeong and Selma Blair, the university announced Thursday. Each talk will be held in the Center for the Arts’ Mainstage Theatre and begin at 7 p.m. 

Graduate students represented by the Graduate Student Association can request a free ticket starting two weeks before each speech, according to UB’s website. Other UB students can purchase discounted tickets, while supplies last, with a valid UB ID at the CFA box office starting Sept. 13. Box office hours are to be determined.

Tickets to Jeong and Blair’s speeches will cost students $10; Tickets to Yovanovitch and Ifill’s will cost students $5. Student tickets to all three of last year’s lectures cost $5. 

Individuals who are not students can purchase tickets to individual speeches for $25 to $75 or tickets to the entire series for $140 to $216. 

Jeong will kick off the series on Tuesday, Oct. 11. Jeong, an actor and comedian, is best known for his roles in “The Hangover” movies, “Crazy Rich Asians” and the TV show “Community.” He is also the creator, writer, producer and star of the sitcom “Dr. Ken” and a licensed physician with a medical degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 

Yovanovitch will speak next on Tuesday, Nov. 15. Yovanovitch is a retired Foreign Service officer who served under six presidential administrations and as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Ukraine, among other posts. She was known in Ukraine for her anti-corruption activism. Former President Trump recalled her from her ambassadorship in April, 2019 after months of complaints from Rudy Guiliani and others that she was obstructing efforts to convince the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden’s son, according to The Wall Street Journal. Trump was impeached for those efforts in early 2020, and Yovanovitch testified in the House’s public impeachment hearings, according to The Guardian. She currently holds positions at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

7th Army Training Command / Wikimedia Commons

Marie Yovanovitch served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2016 to 2019 and testified during the first impeachment of then-President Donald Trump. License

Ifill will continue the series into the spring semester on Thursday, Feb. 16 as UB’s 47th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Speaker. Ifill led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a leading civil rights organization and law firm founded by Thurgood Marshall, from 2013 to 2022. In that role, she fought against voter suppression, educational inequities and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Before joining the NAACP, Ifill served as a faculty member at the University of Maryland Law School and authored the 2007 book, “On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century,”  which was finalist for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

Blair will close the series on Wednesday, March 15. She is best known for her acting roles in “Legally Blonde,” “Hellboy,” “Cruel Intentions,” the sitcom “Anger Management” and “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Blair came forward in 2017 with sexual harrassment allegations agianst director James Toback, according to The Guardian, and was featured as one of the “Silence Breakers” selected as TIME magazine’s “People of The Year.” She released a memoir,  “Mean Baby,” in May, which details her relationship with her mother, her struggles with alcoholism and her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. 

“Whether discussing society’s grand challenges, sharing personal testaments of courage, or providing a generous dose of comic relief, this season’s speakers promise to offer compelling, enlightened perspectives that are not to be missed,” UB President Satish Tripathi said in a statement

The 2022-23 series is the second to be held in person since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Olympic Gold-medal winning gymnast Aly Raisman, “1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah-Jones and TV conservationist Jeff Corwin spoke at the 2021-22 series. Actor and UB alum Winston Duke was scheduled to kick off that series, but his visit was postponed before being canceled altogether. 

Grant Ashley is the managing editor and can be reached at


Grant Ashley is the editor in chief of The Spectrum. He's also reported for NPR, WBFO, WIVB and The Buffalo News. He enjoys taking long bike rides, baking with his parents’ ingredients and recreating Bob Ross paintings in crayon. He can be found on the platform formerly known as Twitter at @Grantrashley. 



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