The Best Guest Speakers for College Students in 2024

Finding the right guest speaker for your college or university audience can have a major impact on campus wellbeing. From inspiring your audience with messages of empowerment to sharing unparalleled insights about personal finance, finding your calling, and overcoming challenges, a credible and relatable guest speaker can help build community and make lasting memories.

Our exciting roster of college motivational speakers represents rising and established stars across industries who are experts at connecting with young audiences. If you’re searching for the best guest speakers for college and university audiences, then check out this list of the most exciting motivational speakers for 2023-2024. 

 

College Motivational Speakers Who Make an Impact​

Whether you’re looking to motivate your student community to achieve their goals, build connections, or provide valuable perspectives about the world beyond school, an empowering speaker can light a fire of inspiration.

The Harvard Business Review: Ascend article “What College Students Need to Succeed in the Corporate World” identifies several factors of ‘job-readiness’, including resilience, optimism, and curiosity. Resilience and curiosity are part of a growth mindset – which Forbes and Entrepreneur both say is “essential for career success.” The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at Berkeley puts it another way, the ‘mindset GPS’: Growth, Purpose, and Social – emphasizing that community is essential. According to GGSC: “It starts with institutions recognizing that helping students be successful also includes helping them adopt the learning mindsets that will help them navigate the challenges and struggles of life.”

Building resilience, developing a growth mindset, and motivation are some of the most popular topics for college & university audiences, and HWA’s expert speakers draw on their personal and professional journeys to make a lasting impact.​

Top Ideas for College & University Speaker Programming

Our HWA sales team is ready to help you book the best speaker for your event, no matter the focus. Our experts can connect you with the best guest speakers for college students, so you can curate a calendar of unforgettable events that will connect, celebrate, and inspire your academic community.

Hispanic Heritage Month  |  Disability Pride  |  Black Heritage & History Month  |  Women’s History Month  |  LGBTQ+ Speakers for Gaypril and Pride  |  AAPI Heritage Month

FIFA Women's World Cup Champion, Two-Time Olympic Gold Medalist, and NYT bestselling author ABBY WAMBACH has received glowing reviews from college & university audiences:

"Abby was transformational. In fact I heard “the best commencement speaker we’ve ever had” stated several times including by our university president." - Loyola Marymount University

"I just wanted to let you know the event went AMAZING! So many students were impacted by Abby’s amazing story. Abby's message was so powerful and to truly impacted those in attendance." - Ohio State University

NFL player, entrepreneur, and philanthropist DAMAR HAMLIN inspires audiences with his vision for making an impact through his life and work.

Hamlin is the Founder of Chasing M's and The Chasing M’s Foundation, dedicated to supporting the aspirations of youth and community members through sports, education, and enrichment opportunities.

In profound and uplifting events, Hamlin shares his inspiration and what calls him to be a role model in his community, and how giving back can change the world.

 

 

Emmy-winning journalist and bestselling author LISA LING provokes audiences to think differently about the people and world around them.

Past hosts include University of VermontNational Association of Independent Schools, and more.

"Lisa Ling was so well received by the graduates. They were really impressed by her!" - National University

"Her talk was flawless and she received a standing ovation. She was great this morning while meeting with the students; she was real and made a difference!" - University of Louisiana-Monroe

Award-winning actor, producer, writer, New York Times bestselling author, and media trailblazer LILLY SINGH is a leading force in popular culture. One of TIME’s “30 Most Influential People on the Internet,” Singh has amassed a global audience of over 40M with her storytelling superpower.

As in her bestselling books, in her live events Lilly offers empowering insights about building her career, creating equity, leading with authenticity, and more, and always with her signature blend of humor, vulnerability, and keen observation.

 

 

Internationally bestselling and prizewinning author MOHSIN HAMID weaves universal themes and timeless storytelling with geopolitical analysis, inspiring audiences to think deeply about the global interconnectedness of our lives, politics, and imaginations.

Past hosts include Columbia University, Lehigh University, Duke University, Brown University, University of Minnesota, and more.

Former Wall Street trader-turned-expert educator VIVIAN TU is the founder and CEO of financial equity phenomenon “Your Rich BFF” – making personal finance accessible  to non-experts and marginalized communities.

Tu transforms finance into “fun-ance” to help her audience start the financial journey. Past hosts include NextShark’s AAPI College Readiness Conference, Her Campus Media, and more.

Pioneering, two-time Peabody Award-winning comedian HASAN MINHAJ inspires audiences to take risks, and speak from a place of honesty. A consummate storyteller, Minhaj creates one-of-a-kind experiences that reveal new perspectives through his comedic genius, astute observations, and his gift for asking powerful questions.

Past hosts include Arizona State University.

Home renovation expert, 10-year Goldman Sachs Executive, and viral content creator GALEY ALIX is in-demand for her insights about finding your purpose, balancing professional opportunities with personal goals, and building a values-based business.

Past hosts include Essex International Business School, Boston College, University of Florida College of Design, and more.

 

 

Internationally recognized environmental activist, author, and MacArthur “genius” grant recipient CATHERINE COLEMAN FLOWERS is a sought-after speaker for college & university audiences, including  Georgetown University, University of Melbourne, Wheaton College, Duke University, and many more.

"It was an absolute joy to work with Catherine! I know her work and message made such a positive impact on all those in attendance... An honor to hear from such an incredible person!" - St. Olaf College

"The presentation by Catherine Coleman Flowers was highly engaging, even, shall I say, spellbinding!" - Huntingdon College

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author RONAN FARROW has received rave reviews for his events at the University of Buffalo's Distinguished Speaker Series, Gonzaga University, and more.

"Last night was a tremendous success. No real words can describe the job that Ronan did… He was professional, polished, human, kind, warm, open… His event was the first one in thirteen years that I actually had to turn our wait list folks away." - University of Washington

 

 

Actor and media entrepreneur RYAN BERGARA emphasizes the importance of creating often, failing often, having fun, and doing what you love with people who support you.

Past hosts include the University of Pittsburgh, Chapman University, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and more.

WNBA star ALIYAH BOSTON has been called "the face of the WNBA just months into her professional career" by the New York Times.

Aliyah shares lessons she has learned about expressing yourself, thinking outside of the box, and staying humble as you build the career and life of your dreams.

Top political reporter and NPR White House correspondent TAMARA KEITH shares how she found her dream and followed it all the way to the top.

Past hosts include Johns Hopkins University, Drury University, the University of Wisconsin, and more.

Award-winning political analyst and New York Times bestselling author JOY REID receives rave reviews for her events with colleges & universities.

"Her presentation was very engaging as the audience was responsive to her for her entire time on stage. Joy was gracious, caring, and genuinely interested in all whom she encountered." - University of Iowa

 

 

American icon Dr. MAE JEMISON broke more than the sound barrier in 1992 when she climbed aboard the space shuttle Endeavour – she became the first woman of color to travel into space.

She now leads 100 Year Starship (100YSS), a bold, far reaching nonprofit initiative to assure the capabilities exist for human travel beyond our solar system to another star within the next 100 years.

Past hosts include University of Alabama, the University of California - Santa Barbara, Penn State - Harrisburg, Lesley University, and many, many more.

"Absolutely wonderful! Dr. Jemison gave a terrific speech. We were absolutely delighted to have Dr. Jemison at our commencement ceremony and could not have been more pleased with her talk." - DePaul University

"The event was flawless. Dr. Jemison was great! Our guests, students, faculty and staff LOVED HER! We sold out all of the tickets." - Rowan University

"It was excellent. Students, faculty, alums, and community members raved about the conversation... It was an unqualified success." - Dickinson College

"Dr. Jemison was fantastic... We had standing room only for her talk." - Boston College Colloquium on Women and Leadership

"It was a real highlight of the fall for us and incredible contribution to our 'Imagining the Universe' series. I know you've changed the lives of so many and I thank you for doing so again at Stanford." - Stanford University

 

 

Creator, writer, director, and producer ASHLY PEREZ is a viral content creator working across mediums to tell powerful stories. A queer first generation American themself, Ashly shares insights about finding success, overcoming challenges, and how storytelling can create connection and community.

Past hosts include Cornell University.

Gardening and food equity activist RON FINLEY – known widely as the Gangster Gardener – has made a global impact with his message of transformation through gardening, knowledge, and togetherness. Finley encourages young people: “design the life you want to live, not the one that’s been designed for you.”

Past hosts include Purdue University, Tuskegee University, and more.

Award-winning musician ADAM MET is uniquely positioned to connect with younger audiences about the complex issues surrounding climate change. As a globally popular artist, Adam draws on his PhD in sustainability and human rights to offer empowering solutions to the complex issues surrounding climate change.

Past hosts include TEDx Purdue University, Julliard, Columbia University, and more.

International pop star and innovator ERIC NAM is in demand for events with Johns Hopkins University, Colby College, NYU, Cornell, and more.

Eric discusses setting dynamic goals and taking risks, choosing a path with purpose, and his experience as a Korean American creative and entrepreneur in talks that empower and inspire the next generation of change makers.

 

 

Award-winning humanitarian, renowned disability justice practitioner, and author EDDIE NDOPU is an in-demand speaker about the intersections of disability, sustainability, and how we can make meaningful change for our planet’s future. Past hosts include Syracuse University, Columbia University, and more.

With warmth, humor, grit, and clarity, Eddie shares his educational journey to Oxford in his memoir Sipping Dom Pérignon Through a Straw. Eddie talks about finding his path to success while opening the door of inclusion for others.

"A life changing experience." - Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghau University

Renowned actor, director, writer, and producer BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD taught the Nine Muses Lab at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has spoken at SXSW EDU 2020, Harvard University, and more.

With lessons ranging from collaboration, to giving & receiving feedback, to learning how to learn, Howard’s motivational keynotes and conversations make for an unforgettable event.

“Bryce is a passionate, present, and giving teacher. She gives feedback with radical honesty and unfiltered advice on her personal experiences navigating the industry as a hyphenate.” - Student, Nine Muses Lab

 

 

NFL running back TREY EDMUNDS is an authority on overcoming setbacks, creating a positive mindset, and motivation.

In motivational talks, Trey shares an empowering message with young audiences about finding your passion and making a difference. A dedicated community servant, Trey has vast experience connecting with young audiences as a mentor.

Two-time silver medal Paralympic athlete and co-founder of Angel City Sports EZRA FRECH has been a motivational speaker since he was 4 years old, bringing his message that “Being Different is OK.”

Ezra shares his journey accepting and ultimately loving himself and his differences. Audiences will be left with a deep appreciation for what makes us all unique.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright QUIARA ALEGRÍA HUDES is known for her play Water By the Spoonful, as well as her memoir My Broken Language, which was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal.

Student audiences have been thrilled to engage with the Tony Award-winning cultural leader, and past hosts include Deerfield Academy, Bryn Mawr College, Vanderbilt University, and more.

Entertainment entrepreneur, YouTube personality, and viral storyteller STEVEN LIM offers uplifting and entertaining talks about following your dreams, AAPI representation, and the power of food to create world peace.

Past hosts include Georgia Tech, Southern Methodist University, University of California - San Diego, University of Michigan, and more.

 

 

White House Director of Speechwriting for President Barack Obama (2013-2017) and NYT Bestselling Author of Grace CODY KEENAN brings humor, unparalleled insight, and aversion to cynicism to all his audiences.

Cody’s commencement addresses at NYU (2015) and Northwestern (2018) were highlighted as some of the year’s best, and in 2020, Northwestern’s graduating class of seniors chose him over all other professors to deliver their “Last Lecture.”

Past hosts include Princeton University, Wichita State University, Elon College, Collin County Community College, The Berkeley Carroll School, University of Chicago, and many more.

Artistic Director Emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater JUDITH JAMISON is a legendary icon in the world of the performing arts.

Ms. Jamison has received countless positive reviews for her engagements, such as: "Ms. Jamison was a most gracious and eloquent speaker. The fervor in which she spoke on the role of the arts in our lives moved the audience to gasp, then cheer. What a pleasure to host such a guest whose caliber is unparalleled. She brought such a warmth, honesty and lively spirit to our campus." - University of Utah

Past hosts include Bucknell University, Hamilton College, Lesley University, Simmons College School of Management, and more.

 

 

College basketball phenomenon RORI HARMON is making a splash in her sport while balancing her life as a goal-driven student athlete.

From navigating the complex business of NIL, to balancing her role as a leader, to celebrating her LGBTQ+ and Black communities in all that she does, Rori offers her strategies for success.

Jubilee Media Founder and CEO JASON Y. LEE stepped away from a life so many other people deemed ‘successful’ to follow his passion and his purpose. Jason leads engaging, interactive sessions that encourage dialogue and bring student audiences together in community.

Past hosts include Pittsburgh University, Wharton Asia Exchange, Boston College, Cornell University, and more.

Changemaker and award-winning TikTok creator KAHLIL GREENE  – the “Gen-Z historian” – bridges the gap between Gen Z and leading institutions. The first Black student body president in Yale’s history, Greene generates awareness around social issues as they arise in real-time.

Past hosts include Syracuse University, National Student Council Conference, Intrepid Museum Youth Summit, and more.

The most decorated and arguably the best female climber in the world, SASHA DIGIULIAN is constantly pushing the boundaries of what most thought possible.

When she’s not conquering the crag, DiGiulian believes in the transformative power of sports on youth and female development. DiGiulian offers inspiration for achieving courageous goals for individuals, teams, and organizations.

Get Help Finding the Best Guest Speaker for Your College or University

Whether you’re looking to foster community, inspire motivation, or help your university community build conversation around an important issue, a guest speaker can create lasting memories for your student audience that they will carry with them forever. Let the HWA team help you find the best guest speaker for your college or university event – reach out today!