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Lee  Pelton

Lee Pelton

President of Emerson College & Inspirational Speaker


Lee Pelton is a nationally and internationally known speaker and writer on the value of a liberal education and the importance of leadership development, civic engagement, and diversity in higher education. He came to Emerson on July 1, 2011, after serving for 13 years as the president of Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Read More >

Pelton began his academic career at Harvard University, where he earned a PhD in English literature with an academic focus on 19th-century British prose and poetry. He taught English and American literature at Harvard and served as senior tutor at Winthrop House. He later served on the Harvard Board of Overseers and as a vice-chair of its executive committee. After Harvard, Pelton served as dean of the college at Colgate University and Dartmouth College.

He was recognized as a thought and innovation leader in Boston magazine's May 2014 issue: The Power of Ideas: 75 Bold Thinkers Who Are Shaping Our City and the World and Boston 50 on Fire, recognizing 50 leading innovators in Boston, (November 2014). He has received numerous awards, including the Rosoff 20/20 Visionaries Award, The Ad Club (Boston, May 2016), the Boston's 100 Most Influential People, Get Konnected (April 2016), Diversity Leadership Award (The National Diversity Council, October 2015), the Sabra Award (Israeli Stage, November 2014), Speak the Truth Award (Student Immigrant Movement, December 2014) and the Champion of Freedom Award (Freedom House, March 2012). He has also been featured in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Presidency Magazine, the Chronicle of Higher EducationColor Magazine, Diverse: Issues in Higher EducationDiversity Journal, the OregonianOregon Business Journal, and the Seattle Times, and he has been a guest on NPR affiliate station WBUR. He has received honorary degrees from the Boston Urban College and Tokyo International University.

Over the years, Pelton has been active in several higher education associations and cultural organizations including the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education (past chair), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the Association of American Colleges & Universities. In addition to his service as a Harvard Overseer, he has served as a member of the Harvard University Graduate School Alumni Council, the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, Harvard Magazine, Board of Incorporators and several Harvard Visiting Committees.

He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Boston Chamber of Commerce, Museum of African American History (Boston), Boston Arts Academy (Chair), the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, Pro Arts Consortium (President), the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, and the Council of Independent Colleges, as well as the advisory board of Israeli Stage. He is a member of the Board of Trustees at Trinity College (CT), WGBH, and the Museum of Fine Arts.

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Speech Topics

Don't Run Away: What the Future Holds

In this speech, Lee Pelton focuses on the idea that we can’t run away from the future but rather, run towards it. He emphasizes the fact that nowadays, “words matter less and the medium matters more.” The more advanced technology has become, the quicker mediums are established, leaving behind older traditional services. Pelton shares with audiences examples of how digital and media channels are overtaking our everyday lives. From Netflix and Hulu to Facebook and Snapchat, he stresses that we must adapt to this new, visual world.

Make a Difference: Millennials & Social Good

Pelton details the importance of this generation placing more emphasis on the “social good” than any other before. The Boston Strong campaign was started by two young students from Emerson College after the Boston Bombing. A simple idea of selling several T-shirts with the words “Boston Strong” written across transformed into an entire campaign, resulting in a nationwide movement which generated over $1 million, later donated to the Boston One Fund. Pelton showcases how these two students wielded enormous power to make positive change by utilizing the right tools, through effective communication and empowering a community to unite during a time of grief and solace.

Break Boundaries by Leaving Your Digital Mark

Social media has become a “shiny new toy” that has the “capacity to grow like a virus.” Pelton reveals that because users are the ones who decide HOW to use it, this instrument of change can only break boundaries in a positive way if it is managed responsibly. He shares how these platforms do everything from promoting social good like the Boston Strong campaign to revealing misinformation and half-truths, teaching all audiences what they can do to make a positive impact via digital media.