Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist announced as Rice’s 2020 commencement speaker

International correspondent honored for championing human rights

Nicholas Kristof, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times renowned for his advocacy of human rights and social justice, will deliver the 2020 commencement address at Rice University.

Nicholas Kristof

Nicholas Kristof

Kristof, an international correspondent and columnist for more than 35 years, is a passionate chronicler of the human condition in the underdeveloped world. His interest in global health, poverty and gender issues has taken him to six continents and more than 150 countries. He has covered genocide, confronted warlords, survived an African plane crash and encountered an Indonesian mob carrying heads on pikes, all while producing a distinguished body of journalism.

“Our student committee reflected a deep concern with the most important issues of our time in nominating Nicholas Kristof as our commencement speaker next spring,” Rice President David Leebron said. “His work has sought to explore the fundamental challenges affecting human well-being around the globe. It is incumbent on all of us to seek to understand the plight of our fellow human beings, and to ask what might be done to improve it. Kristof’s tireless work in the effort to foster this understanding makes him an excellent commencement speaker choice.”

Kristof won his first Pulitzer in 1990 with his wife, New York Times reporter Sheryl WuDunn, for covering China’s Tiananmen Square democracy movement. He won his second Pulitzer in 2006 for what the prize committee described as “his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur.”

Kristof and his wife have written four nonfiction books, two of which inspired PBS documentary programs. Their forthcoming book, “Tightrope,” focuses on the plight of working-class Americans. Kristof was also the subject of the HBO documentary “Reporter,” produced by Academy Award winner Ben Affleck.

Kristof’s commencement address at Rice reflects his special interest in raising student awareness of poverty and social justice issues. Since 2006, The New York Times has sponsored a contest offering college students the opportunity to join Kristof on an international reporting trip. In 2012, he chose Rice engineering student Jordan Schermerhorn to accompany him on a journey to Lesotho, showing her and his readers the economic potential of what he described as “an Africa that is rising.”

His work has won praise not only from his fellow journalists, but also from world leaders. Archbishop Desmond Tutu called Kristof “an honorary African” for his reportage from that continent. Former President Bill Clinton said, “There is no one in journalism, anywhere in the United States at least, who has done anything like the work he has done to figure out how poor people are actually living around the world and what their potential is.”

Kristof has been a Pulitzer finalist seven times. He has also received the prestigious George Polk Award and an Overseas Press Club of America Award for his reporting on human rights and environmental issues.

Rice University’s 107th commencement ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, May 16, 2020.

About Doug Miller

Doug Miller is director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.