Meliora Weekend is our one-stop destination to celebrate Reunions, Family Weekend, and Homecoming, welcoming University of Rochester alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends. There’s something for everyone!

Keynote

Soledad O’Brien is an award-winning journalist, speaker, author and philanthropist. She is the CEO of Starfish Media Group, a multi-platform media production company dedicated to telling empowering and authentic stories on range of social issues.

 

O’Brien anchors and produces the Hearst Television political magazine program Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien. She also reports regularly for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel and PBS NewsHour. She has appeared as an anchor or contributor on all three major networks, is Philanthropy Editor of Worth Magazine and is a frequent author of op-ed pieces for publications like the New York Daily News and the Huffington Post.

 

O’Brien, who was anchor of two CNN morning news programs and their documentary unit, created the In America documentary series. Black in America and Latino in America.

 

Earlier in her career, O’Brien co-anchored on Weekend Today, and contributed segments to the Today show and NBC Nightly News. In 2003, O’Brien joined CNN, where she anchored the morning news program for many years. O’Brien’s coverage of race issues won her two Emmy awards and she earned a third for her reporting on the 2012 presidential election. Her coverage of Hurricane Katrina for CNN earned her and the network a George Foster Peabody Award. She also won the Peabody for her coverage of the BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill, and her reporting on the Southeast Asia tsunami garnered CNN an Alfred I. DuPont Award.

 

She is also the author of two books, her critically acclaimed memoir “The Next Big Story” and “Latino in America.”

 

O’Brien was named journalist of the year by the National Association of Black Journalists and one of Newsweek magazine’s “10 People who Make America Great.” In 2013, O’Brien taught at Harvard University as a Distinguished Fellow and was appointed to the board of directors of the Foundation for the National Archives. In 2015, O’Brien joined the RAND Corporation’s Board of Trustees.
In 2011 O’Brien and her husband Brad Raymond created the PowHERful Foundation, which helps get young women get to and through college. This year, their conference series will visit eight cities across the country.
O’Brien lives in New York with her husband and four children.

University Symposium

An honors graduate of Yale and Cambridge, Ron Chernow is one of the most distinguished commentators on history, politics, and business in America today. He has won virtually every major prize in American letters. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has hailed him as “one of the pre-eminent biographers of his generation” while Fortune magazine has called him “America’s best business biographer.” The Washington Post cited him as one of the “five most important public intellectuals in America today.” In September 2017, President Obama conferred upon him a National Humanities Medal at the White House.

 

Mr. Chernow’s first book, The House of Morgan, won the National Book Award as the best nonfiction book of 1990 and is considered a modern classic. His second book, The Warburgs, won the prestigious George S. Eccles Prize for the best business book of 1993 and was cited by the American Library Association as one of the year’s ten best works. His 1998 biography of John D. Rockefeller, entitled Titan, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for biography and remained on The New York Times bestseller list for sixteen weeks.

 

Mr. Chernow’s much anticipated biography of Alexander Hamilton was published in April 2004 to extraordinary acclaim. The book spent three months on the New York Times bestseller list and was the first recipient of the George Washington Book Prize for the year’s best book about the founding era among other accolades. It was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in biography.

 

In October 2010, Mr. Chernow’s long-awaited biography of George Washington, Washington: A Life, appeared to outstanding reviews. In March 2011, the New-York Historical Society gave the book its coveted American History Book Prize for the best volume about American history published in 2010, endowing Mr. Chernow with the honorary title of American Historian Laureate. In May of that year, Washington: A Life was honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Biography, the highest honor reserved for a writer in the field.

 

Starting in 2008, Mr. Chernow began working with Lin-Manuel Miranda as the historical consultant on the sensational Broadway musical “Hamilton,” inspired by his biography of Alexander Hamilton and considered the biggest Broadway hit of the past fifty years. The show was nominated for a record-breaking 16 Tony Awards, winning 11 of them. In November 2015, Mr. Chernow and Mr. Miranda jointly received the History Makers Award of the New-York Historical Society for their work together on the acclaimed show and were also honored at the National Archives in Washington. That same month, Mr. Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton returned to The New York Times bestseller list. It has sold more than two million copies, making it one of the best-selling biographies of all time. Mr. Chernow’s work has been translated into fifteen languages.

 

In October 2017, the Penguin Press published Mr. Chernow’s seventh book, “Grant,” to universal praise. The book was nominated for four major literary prizes: the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, given by PEN America; the Plutarch Award, conferred by the Biographers International Organization; the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, given by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History; and the Los Angeles Times biography prize. In May Mr. Chernow will receive the Fletcher Pratt Award of the Civil War Round Table for the year’s best nonfiction book on the Civil War and he will be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the highest form of artistic recognition in the country.

 

On the last day of 2017, President Barack Obama listed “Grant” as one of the best books he had read during the year. The book debuted at number one on The New York Times hardcover bestseller list and stayed at or near the top of the list for more than four months. At the same time Alexander Hamilton shot to number two on the paperback bestseller, spending more than one hundred weeks on the list. The film rights to “Grant” have been bought by Lionsgate, the prestigious Hollywood studio, and Appian Way, the production company of Leonardo DiCaprio.

 

A frequent contributor to The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Chernow is a familiar figure on national radio and television shows and has appeared in numerous documentaries. He has served as president of PEN American Center, the country’s preeminent organization of book authors; has sat on the board of the Society of American Historians and Humanity in Action, a global human rights organization; and is a fellow of the New York Academy of History. He has received eight honorary doctorates: from Marymount Manhattan College, Hamilton College, Long Island University, Washington College, Skidmore College, Muhlenberg College, Niagara University, and Lafayette College. He has also received the lifetime achievement award of the Biographers International Organization.

 

Mr. Chernow resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Music

Drawing inspiration from music from all over the world – crossing genres of classical, jazz and old-fashioned pop – Thomas Lauderdale founded Pink Martini in 1994 to provide more beautiful and inclusive musical soundtracks for political fundraisers for causes such as civil rights, affordable housing, the environment, libraries, public broadcasting, education and parks. Twenty years later, Pink Martini still tours the world, singing in 22 languages at opera houses, concert halls and film festivals. In the words of its effervescent bandleader/pianist Thomas Lauderdale: “Pink Martini is a rollicking around-the-world musical adventure… if the United Nations had a house band in 1962, hopefully we’d be that band.”

 

Featuring a dozen musicians, Pink Martini performs its multilingual repertoire in over 25 languages on concert stages and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America and North America. Pink Martini made its European debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 and its orchestral debut with the Oregon Symphony in 1998 under the direction of Norman Leyden. Since then, the band has gone on to play with more than 70 orchestras around the world, including multiple engagements with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, the Boston Pops, the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, the San Francisco Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony at the Sydney Opera House, and the BBC Concert Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall in London.

 

Television appearances include The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Later with Jools Holland, and a feature on CBS Sunday Morning. The band created a nationally broadcast 2015 NPR holiday concert special, Joy to the World: A Holiday Spectacular, and has been featured on multiple New Year’s Eve broadcasts on NPR’s Toast of the Nation.

 

In 2016, Pink Martini released its ninth studio album, Je dis oui!, which features vocals from China Forbes, Storm Large, Ari Shapiro, fashion guru Ikram Goldman, civil rights activist Kathleen Saadat, and Rufus Wainwright. The album’s 15 tracks span eight languages (French, Farsi, Armenian, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish, Xhosa and English), and affirms the band’s 23-year history of global inclusivity and collaborative spirit.

Talking Politics with Michael Steele

Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee, and former Lieutenant governor of Maryland, and the first African American elected to statewide office in Maryland. Until recently he was President and CEO of The Steele Group, a consulting firm working with institutional and individual clients to design overall business development, investor, networking, and communications strategies.

 

Currently, Steele is president and CEO of The Steele Group, cohost of the Steele & Ungar radio show, and an exclusive political commentator for MSNBC. Additionally, Mr. Steele has been an entertaining and eloquent guest on cable political talk shows such as HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and Comedy Central’s Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

 

As chairman of the RNC, Mr. Steele was charged with revitalizing the Republican Party. A self-described “Lincoln Republican,” under Steele’s leadership the RNC broke fundraising records (over $198 million raised during the 2010 Congressional cycle) and Republicans won 63 House seats, the biggest pickup since 1938. His commitment to grassroots organization and party building at the state and local levels produced 12 governorships and the greatest share of state legislative seats since 1928 (over 600 seats).

 

As Lt. Governor of Maryland, Mr. Steele’s priorities included reforming the state’s Minority Business Enterprise program, improving the quality of Maryland’s public education system (he championed the State’s historic Charter School law), expanding economic development in the state and fostering cooperation between government and faith-based organizations to help those in need.

 

Mr. Steele writes a regular column for The Root.com and BET.com and his writings on law, business and politics have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Politico.com, Townhall.com, The Journal of International Security Affairs and Catholic University Law Review, among others. He is the recent author of Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda, which is a call to arms for grassroots America.

 

Born at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Mr. Steele was raised in Washington, DC. He spent three years in the Order of St. Augustine in preparation for the priesthood. He is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University (‘81’), Georgetown Law Center (’91), and an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow in Public Leadership. Mr. Steele is a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Landover Hills, MD, where he attends mass regularly with his wife Andrea.

Comedian

Nasim Pedrad is a comedian and actress best known for her work on Saturday Night Live, where she spent five years as a cast member.  Pedrad joined the cast of SNL in the 2009 season from The Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles. Her more recent television credits include the FOX series New Girl as well as People of Earth on TBS and the 2017 return of HBO’s acclaimed comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Currently, she is filming Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin, set to hit theatres in 2019.