New Take on the Herbert H. Lehman Memorial Lecture Brings Star Power to the Stage

Share on
Photo of an African American man in profile. He is dressed in black and gesturing in the air.
Photo: Brian Hatton

The Herbert H. Lehman Memorial Lecture, held in memory of the College’s namesake, marked its 53rd year on Monday, April 3 with acclaimed actor and motivational speaker Derek Luke.

With past lectures featuring significant figures in public service, the arts, journalism, and academia—including a Nobel Peace laureate, and secretary-general of the United Nations—Luke’s interactive, unscripted, and passionate monologue turned the very concept of “lecture” on its head.

Although unorthodox, this fresh take drew an enthusiastic audience, while the message reflected the humanitarian values that the lecture series celebrates.

Luke spoke candidly about his experiences growing up in Jersey City and later in Hollywood, and used the concept of equity to take the audience on a compelling, autobiographical, and instructive journey through his evolution as an actor, husband, and father.

As a youth, he discovered his gift as an actor through intuition and faith. As an adult, tenacity and grit helped him achieve his goals, despite lack of training and repeated rejections. The first African American to be hired at a Los Angeles department store, the job put him in the right place to meet people and make connections that would eventually jumpstart his career. Once you find and hone your particular gift, he told the audience, “your gift demands everyone listens.”

Speaking directly to students in the audience before the Q&A session, Lehman College President Fernando Delgado put Luke’s message in the context of a Lehman education: “That gift [is] your resource, unique to you in this world,” he said.” So, guard it, protect it, grow it, but when you are in those spaces, when you are at the table, share it.”

Since 1970, the Herbert H. Lehman Memorial Lecture has presented speakers from across the public and private sectors including U.S. senator and presidential candidate George McGovern; Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of The New York Times; Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations; Dr. Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, vice president and first lady of the Dominican Republic; U.S. senator Albert Gore, Sr., U.S. congresswoman Geraldine A. Ferraro, and New York Attorney General Letitia James.