A look back on the 2019-20 school year’s speakers


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Stacey Abrams, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and the Northwestern University College Democrats’ Fall 2019 speaker.

James Pollard, Summer Managing Editor

From actors and comedians to activists and politicians, fascinating speakers flock to campus each quarter. This past year was no different. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the University to shutter its doors, events just moved from campus venues like Cahn Auditorium to students’ childhood bedrooms.

Here’s a rundown of just some of the 2019-20 school year’s speakers:

Stacey Abrams

In early October, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams discussed her efforts to increase voter participation and educate people on their voting rights.

The former Georgia House Minority Leader was Northwestern University College Democrats’ fall speaker just one year after losing her 2018 gubernatorial bid to Republican Brian Kemp by less than two percentage points after the former Georgia Secretary of State purged over 340,000 voters from registration rolls.

Abrams also discussed the importance of participating in the census, which she said writes “the narrative of who we are” every ten years.

Eric Andre

Later that month, A&O Productions brought comedian Eric Andre to Cahn Auditorium. There, the zany host of The Eric Andre Show performed a sold out comedy set, discussing his experience seeing Tupac’s hologram at Coachella and taking MDMA before tackling political issues like the War on Drugs and prostitution.

Then-A&O speakers chair Syd Monroe said Andre’s wacky style made him an interesting person to bring to campus.

“Northwestern’s got a really great sense of humor,” Monroe said. “Eric Andre isn’t your classic vanilla standup. It says a lot about Northwestern that the show sold out because he’s kind of a niche comedian.”

Tarana Burke

In January, the civil rights activist behind the #MeToo movement delivered the keynote address as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. events scheduled for Dream Week 2020, which celebrated black history on NU’s campuses.

Tarana Burke emphasized that the movement was the result of persistent community organizing. It is a movement about healing from a ubiquitous trauma, she added — a collaboration between many communities that recognized a need.

“I believe in community healing,” Burke said. “We’re talking about laws and policies, we’re talking about culture shifts.”

Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman

In February, A&O Productions brought SNL cast members Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman to headline their winter speaker event.

Fineman performed impressions of famous people like Meryl Streep, Drew Barrymore, Timothée Chalamet and Melania Trump. When an audience member suggested she impersonate Morgan Freeman, Fineman said, “I have a lane. It’s white women, and I stay in it.”

Yang, the first Chinese American and third openly gay cast member on SNL, performed next. His “Allyship Quiz” was a hit with the audience. During one part of the bit, Yang asked an audience member to participate in his version of the game “F—k, marry, kill,” which he dubbed “icon, ally and electric chair.”

Jonathan Van Ness

In May, with the University (and many hair salons) closed, television personality and hair stylist Jonathan Van Ness participated in a virtual Q&A with NU students.

The event, presented by A&O Productions, Rainbow Alliance, UNITY and STITCH, featured the “Queer Eye” star sharing beauty tips and his favorite activities in isolation.

One of his self-care tips? Because he’d been washing his hands more frequently, he said he’s “basically sleeping with socks on my hands with whatever body moisturizer I can get my hands on every night, so that they’re not so horribly dry.”

John Mulaney

More than 1,000 students attended John Mulaney’s virtual Q&A, hosted by A&O Productions in collaboration with NSTV, The Blackout, NU Nights, NU Arts Alliance and Studio 22. 

Throughout the hour-long event, Mulaney dished out advice, answering questions from graduating seniors entering a dwindling job market and students seeking to stay motivated amid a pandemic.

Well known for his bit on college life, and with a mother who is a professor at Pritzker School of Law, Mulaney had some final advice for college students: stay hydrated.

“If you’re ever in the middle of the day like, ‘I feel sad because I think I’m a bad person,’ you try first drinking a glass of water,” Mulaney said. “And then if not, we can talk medication.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @pamesjollard