NASA Astronaut, Olympic Gymnast, ‘Nightline’ Co-Anchor Headline 2016-2017 Southeast Speakers Series


201617SpeakersAnnouncement graphicSoutheast Missouri State University announces its 2016-2017 Speakers Series with another stellar lineup of leading individuals who will share their compelling stories and viewpoints with the campus and regional community.

Speakers this year include: inspirational speaker and burn survivor John O’Leary; ABC’s “Nightline” Co-Anchor and “Step Out On Nothing” Author Byron Pitts; NPR Arts Correspondent Mandalit del Barco; Conservative pundit and CNN Political Commentator Kayleigh McEnany debating civil rights leader, former Obama White House Advisor and CNN Political Correspondent Van Jones; NASA Astronaut Capt. Scott Kelly; civil rights, gender equality and social justice leader Dr. Mary Frances Berry; and Olympic gold medal-winning Gymnast Shawn Johnson.

Southeast’s Speakers Series promises to engage audiences in thought-provoking discussions, through a combination of inspirational stories, and often humor, said Dr. Debbie Below, vice president for enrollment management and student success and dean of students.

“From an astronaut to an Olympian, Southeast has invited an accomplished group of individuals to engage with students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community on a broad range of timely topics,” she said.

“We strive to teach our students to have a strong work ethic and to develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills. The University Speaker Series highlights the achievements of individuals who often reflect on their own college experiences and share personal stories of hard work and goal setting that led to their success in life. We are fortunate to be able to expose our students year after year to speakers of this caliber,” Below added.

Joanna Shaver, coordinator of campus programming, said, “We bring experts from a variety of disciplines to our campus who have a worldly view and have experienced extraordinary things.”

She says she hopes this year’s lineup will inspire visionary ideas among the next generation of leaders.


Tickets are required for the McEnany and Jones debate, and the Kelly and Johnson events, and they are $10. They can be purchased at and the Show Me Center Box Office. Current Southeast faculty, staff and students can use a valid Redhawks ID to pick up a free ticket for these three events in the Center for Student Involvement (University Center Room 204) or the Show Me Center Box Office. Tickets for the McEnany and Jones political debate, and Kelly’s presentation will be available Monday, Aug. 22. Tickets for the Johnson event will be available Tuesday, Jan. 17. The O’Leary, Pitts and del Barco events are free.

Tickets for the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner, during which Berry will speak, will go on sale Nov. 28.

For more information on the series, visit


All events except for Pitts’and del Barco’s presentations will be held in the Show Me Center. Pitts’ event will be held in Academic Hall Auditorium. Del Barco’s presentation will be given in the University Center.

John O’Leary

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John O’Leary

John O’Leary, who was burned on 100 percent of his body as a child, will present an inspirational message during Southeast’s new student welcome convocation at 11 a.m. Aug. 19. The presentation, “Live Inspired,” is free for faculty, staff, students and the public. No tickets are necessary.

O’Leary will share his story recounting how as a curious nine-year-old boy playing with fire and gasoline in 1987, he created a massive explosion in his home, burning him over his entire body. He was given a one percent chance to live.

His epic story of survival was first showcased in his parents’ book, “Overwhelming Odds,” in 2006. It was this book that first invited O’Leary to embrace his miraculous recovery and share it with the world. The power of his message, who he is as an individual, his emotional story-telling, unexpected humor and authenticity make each of his presentations truly transformational.

O’Leary’s first book “ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life,” was an instant #1 national Bestseller; more than 30,000 copies were sold in the first three weeks. O’Leary is a contributor for The Huffington Post and Parade Magazine website and has an online community of more than 75,000.

Byron Pitts

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Byron Pitts

Kicking off the 2016-2017 Speakers Series will be Byron Pitts, co-anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” and author of “Step Out On Nothing.”  He will be the keynote speaker for Patriot Day at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 12, in Academic Hall Auditorium. The title of his address is “An Evening with Byron Pitts.” The event is free for faculty, staff, students and the public, and no tickets are necessary.

Known for his thought-provoking coverage and his commitment to exceptional storytelling, Pitts is a multiple Emmy Award winning journalist. A news veteran with over 20 years of experience, Pitts has covered major stories including the war in Afghanistan, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the military buildup in Kuwait and the refugee crisis in Kosovo.

Pitts’ many achievements of perseverance and strength are all the more extraordinary when he tells of the many obstacles he faced as a child while being raised by a single mother. With the help of his roommate and a college professor, Pitts found the support and encouragement necessary to pursue a career in broadcast journalism. By staying focused, setting simple and achievable goals and finding strength in faith, Pitts overcame powerful odds.

He realized a life-long goal when he was named a contributing correspondent to CBS’ “60 Minutes” in 2009. In 2013, Pitts became an anchor and the chief national correspondent at ABC. Prior to working for ABC, he was the chief national correspondent for CBS’ “Evening News with Katie Couric.”

Sharing anecdotes and details of his own personal challenges while growing up, Pitts encourages audiences to reach for their dreams and to strive past struggles to achieve success. He challenges audiences to be brave enough to “step out on nothing” to help others reach their own goals.

Mandalit del Barco


Mandalit del Barco

Mandalit del Barco, arts correspondent at NPR West, will continue the series, speaking at 6 p.m. Oct. 10 in the University Center Ballroom as a part of National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrated annually Sept. 15-Oct. 15.

Del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition,” “Weekend Edition,” “” and

Del Barco’s reporting has taken her throughout the United States as well as to Haiti to report on the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. She has chronicled street gangs exported from the United States to El Salvador and Honduras, and in Mexico, she reported about immigrant smugglers, musicians, filmmakers and artists. In Argentina, she profiled tango legend Carlos Gardel, and in the Philippines, she reported a feature on balikbayan boxes. From China, del Barco contributed to NPR’s coverage of the United Nations’ Women’s Conference. She also spent a year in her birthplace, Peru, working on a documentary and teaching radio journalism as a Fulbright Fellow and on a fellowship with the Knight International Center for Journalists.

In addition to reporting daily stories, del Barco has produced half-hour radio documentaries about gangs in Central America, Latino hip hop, L.A. Homegirls, artist Frida Kahlo, New York’s Palladium ballroom and Puerto Rican “Casitas,” and has written articles for Latina magazine and reported for the weekly radio show “Latino USA.”

Election 2016 – Political Contributor’s Point/Counterpoint Debate

Southeast Missouri State University will host a political debate at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 entitled “Election 2016 – Political Contributor’s Point/Counterpoint Debate with Van Jones and Kayleigh McEnany.”

Van Jones

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Van Jones

Van Jones is a civil rights leader, former Obama White House advisor and CNN political correspondent. He is the founder and president of Dream Corps — an incubator, platform and home for world-changing initiatives that empower the most vulnerable in our society. The Dream Corps’ three programs — #cut50,  #YesWeCode and Green For All — work to close prison doors and open doors of opportunity.

A Yale-educated attorney, Jones has written two New York Times bestsellers: “The Green Collar Economy,” the definitive book on green jobs, and “Rebuild the Dream,” a roadmap for progressives. Over the past two decades, Jones has founded four thriving social enterprises, advancing solutions to some of America’s toughest economic and environmental problems. In 2009, he worked as the green jobs advisor to the Obama White House. There, he helped run the inter-agency process that oversaw $80 billion in green energy recovery spending.

Kayleigh McEnany


Kayleigh McEnany

Kayleigh McEnany is a conservative pundit and CNN political commentator.  She graduated from Harvard Law School with a Juris Doctor and Georgetown University School of Foreign Service with a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service in international politics. She also studied politics and international relations at Oxford University, St. Edmund Hall.

As a CNN commentator, McEnany appears nightly on CNN’s primetime shows and throughout its daytime programming.  Before joining CNN, McEnany appeared on ABC’s “The View” and was regularly featured on various Fox News and Fox Business programs.

In addition to her television work, McEnany was a columnist for “Above The Law,” providing textualist analysis of legal issues.  She has also written for various publications like The Daily Caller, The Blaze, Newsmax, PJ Media, The International Business Times and, among others.

McEnany spent three years working at Fox News and The Mike Huckabee Show, and interned with the Bush White House, Bush-Cheney 2004, Tom Gallagher for Governor and the Office of Congressman Adam Putnam.

Scott Kelly

Official portrait of Expedition 45/46 long duration astronaut Scott Kelly in EMU. Photo Date: August 11, 2014. Location: Building 8, Room 183 - Photo Studio. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

Scott Kelly

NASA astronaut Capt. Scott Kelly will speak at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 when he will present “The Sky is Not the Limit: Lessons from a Year in Space.”

Back from his historic record-breaking year in space, Kelly has laid the groundwork for the future of space travel and exploration, and continues to garner media exposure like no other pioneer of our time.

From the cover of TIME magazine to live interviews on NBC’s TODAY Show, to features in Forbes Magazine and on CNN to nearly 1 million followers on Twitter, the world remains in awe as it celebrates a hero’s return to the planet that is home, from an adventure that is extraordinary.

With life lessons and personal stories that reveal unique and valuable advice on pushing one’s own limits, to insight on the leadership and teamwork required in such demanding conditions, and the challenges—such as long-term deprivation from loved ones and planet Earth—Kelly reflects on the choices and life events that paved his journey’s path and brings audiences to the edge of their seats as he delivers a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Dr. Mary Berry

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Dr. Mary Berry

An author, educator and historian, Dr. Mary Berry will present the keynote address at Southeast’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner Jan. 18 in the Show Me Center. Doors to the event open at 5 p.m. with the dinner scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Berry served as chairperson of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission where she led the charge for equal rights and liberties for all Americans over the course of four Presidential administrations.

A trailblazer for both women and African Americans, she also became the first woman of any race to head a major research university, serving at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

A fighter against inequality, Berry was one of the founders of the monumental Free South Africa Movement. Berry and her organization were instrumental in raising global awareness and abhorrence towards South African injustice, helping to end more than 40 years of apartheid. Berry also served as Assistant Secretary for Education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

A prolific author, Berry’s books cover a wide range of subjects, from the history of constitutional racism in America to the politics of parenthood. Her most recent book, “Power in Words: The Stories behind Barack Obama’s Speeches, from the State House to the White House,” offers insight and historical context of President Obama’s most memorable speeches.

She continues to speak boldly for those who cannot speak for themselves. Berry educates, transforms and inspires.

Shawn Johnson

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Shawn Johnson

Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Shawn Johnson will speak at at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 during a presentation titled “An Evening with Shawn Johnson.”

Since she was a little girl, Johnson dreamed of competing for the United States in the Olympics. By 2008 when she was named to the U.S. Olympics Gymnastics Team, she was already a two-time National Champion, and a World AA Champion.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Johnson helped establish the United States as one of the most talented teams in the world, winning the individual gold medal in the balance beam, and three silver medals in the individual all-around, floor exercise and team categories.

In 2009, she was named the 79th Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Sullivan Award recipient, one of amateur sports’ most prestigious honors. In May 2009, Johnson won season eight of “Dancing with the Stars,” and earned second place on the all-star show. In 2012, she published her book, “Winning Balance,” and announced her retirement from competitive gymnastics following a knee injury. In 2014, she competed on the seventh installment of the hit show, “Celebrity Apprentice.”

In addition to gymnastics, Johnson is known for her charitable endeavors, including work with many cancer-related and animal charities. Johnson, who loves big and lives big, lists her loves as family, friends, gymnastics, animals, shopping, horseback riding and motorcycles.