2010 Academy of Achievement Summit
The following morning, the Fellows met a series of exceptional speakers in the first symposium session of the Summit, held in an elegant and intimate meeting room of the Willard. The first speaker, Jacqueline Novogratz, is a prime example of the concept of social entrepreneurship. Founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund, she has channeled philanthropic contributions into self-sustaining enterprises that provide essential services to some of the poorest people on earth. Ms. Novogratz illustrated her address with vivid anecdotes of her experiences, from Africa to South Asia.
The Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, engaged the Fellows in a passionate discussion of the importance of civil liberties in the atmosphere of heightened security prompted by the war on terror. He fielded students' questions.
The Summit also heard from the Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, Sonal Shah. The Indian-born economist is President Obama's liaison to social entrepreneurs and the nonprofit sector. David Rubenstein, who served as a domestic policy aide to President Jimmy Carter before founding The Carlyle Group, the private equity firm with interests in every sector of the economy, emphasized the importance of building on one's early accomplishments, rather than resting on one's laurels. The final speaker of the morning was a member of President Obama's Cabinet, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
The discussion of finance and government continued over lunch at the Willard, where the Fellows heard from the Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. A former president of Harvard, his alma mater, Summers delivered a summary of current national economic issues, as well as educational issue dear to his heart, the importance of the mathematical study of probability.
In the afternoon session, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, and the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, engaged in a lively discussion of the federal government's role in medical research. Dr. Collins, a pioneer of genetic medicine, is now responsible for allocating the $31 billion the government appropriates for health research. Dr. Fauci, long a leader in the struggle against HIV-AIDS, touched on the current state of this effort. Both men stressed the need for transparency in medical research, which they weighed against the privacy concerns that arise from the collection of genetic and medical data.
The physician scientists were followed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. As a young infantry officer in Vietnam, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War, and as Secretary of State at the onset of current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, he has had a unique insight into the most crucial episodes of our history. A central figure in American foreign policy and national security for nearly 30 years, General Powell gave the Fellows the benefit of his incomparable perspective on world events, as well as that of his own inspiring life story.
Another participant with a unique insight into America's wars, past and present, was journalist and author Rick Atkinson. Recipient of multiple Pulitzer Prizes for reportage, and for his multi-volume account of the American army in World War II, he is also author of the most acclaimed account of the every day life of combat soldiers in Iraq.
Struggles of another kind were addressed by the last speaker of the afternoon, Andy Stern, President of America's fastest growing labor union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He received an enthusiastic reception for his discussion of SEIU's work on behalf of some of the least visible workers in the American economy, and of SEIU's influential role in the landmark health care legislation -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- that had passed the House of Representatives the previous Sunday.