Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor and director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, will deliver the keynote address at Caltech's 129th Annual Commencement ceremony on June 16, 2023.
"Allen is a leading scholar in political philosophy, ethics, and public policy who offers a unique perspective on the critical importance of democracy and civic engagement," said Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum in a memo announcing the speaker. "Her ability to connect classical thought and human experience with modern day societal challenges has illuminated the pathways that we traverse as citizens and scholars."
A MacArthur Fellow and the recipient of the Library of Congress's Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, Allen serves as the principal investigator of the Democratic Knowledge Project, an initiative that provides K–16 educators and students with quality resources to promote the development of informed and skilled civic participants.
She is the author or co-author of 14 books, including the multiple-award-winning Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality; her memoir Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A., which was named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Booklist; and her essay, Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education, about developing political friendship. She also is a contributing columnist to the Washington Post.
"I've long admired Caltech. Ever since I had my first summer job at neighboring JPL," says Allen. "It will be an honor to celebrate the achievements of this year's cohort of graduates from this distinguished and inventive institution."
Allen was born in Takoma Park, Maryland, and raised in Claremont, California. Her mother and father, a librarian and a professor, respectively, were married in California in the 1960s, a time when an interracial marriage such as theirs was still illegal in many states. They taught Allen and her brother to believe in the power of their own voices and to be prepared to use them to help others. Allen also found inspiring role models among her other family members, including her paternal grandfather, a Baptist preacher who helped establish the first NAACP chapter in his north Florida region, and her maternal great-grandparents, who fought for women's right to vote in Michigan.
After graduating from Claremont High School, Allen earned her AB in classics from Princeton University; her MPhil and PhD in classics from King's College, University of Cambridge in the UK; and her MA and PhD in government from Harvard. She is a former trustee of Amherst College and a past chair of the Pulitzer Prize board. She currently serves as president and board chair for Partners in Democracy, as a trustee for the Cambridge Health Alliance, and as a board member for Rank the Vote and FairVote.
When the COVID pandemic emerged, Allen realized that Massachusetts's community of universities and biotechnology companies offered a powerful resource with which to respond to the crisis. She led a bipartisan, multidisciplinary COVID response team that developed the Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience, which laid out a plan for large-scale testing and contact tracing so that the U.S. economy could reopen. Her work led to the establishment of the Biden administration's Pandemic Testing Board to provide implementation and oversight of the federal government's testing and public health workforce strategy.
For more about Caltech's 129th Annual Commencement, visit commencement.caltech.edu.