speaker series

John T. Vucurevich Foundation hosts an annual Speaker Series that highlights national and international speakers who all have a vision for the future, promote understanding and awareness in the world, and who may be an inspiration to the people of Rapid City and the surrounding area.

The Foundation selects speakers of national and international reputation, who have made significant contributions in their respective fields to come to Rapid City to share their ideas.

Ticket sales cover only a small portion of the cost of these events. The balance is paid for by the John T. Vucurevich Foundation and is a gift to the people of this community.

2023 Speaker

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

September 25, 2023

As Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state and Liberia’s first female president, she is credited with achieving dramatic economic, social, and political change, culminating in Liberia’s first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in 73 years.

During 15 years of brutal civil war, the women of Liberia watched helplessly as children died of hunger. Others saw their children kidnapped, drugged, and forced to become child soldiers. Of the 1.5 million women who survived the war, more than 70% had been raped. Many witnessed acts of violence so heinous, they were traumatized for years to come.

In 2005, two years after the conflict ended, they put their hopes into a unified rallying cry:” Vote for Woman!” Their woman was Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, once an abused wife, who had risen to become a Harvard-trained economist, finance minister, imprisoned political dissident and influential World Bank economist and U.N. development expert. The story of how these legions of “market women,” who toiled in the fields and market stalls in order to send their children to school, organized to elect Africa’s first female president is a story of empowerment, hope and the power of the human spirit. It is also the story of one of the world’s most remarkable women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose inspirational leadership healed a shattered nation and earned the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Peace Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won international acclaim for leading Liberia through the Ebola Crisis and through reconciliation and recovery following her nation’s decade-long civil war.

President Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2011 for her achievements as a global leader for women’s empowerment. She is also the recipient of The Presidential Medal of Freedom—the United States’ highest civilian award—for her personal courage and unwavering commitment to expanding freedom and improving the lives of Africans.

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Past Speakers



Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

President of Liberia



Mike Massimino & Garrett Reisman

An Evening With Two Funny Astronauts



Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D.

Oncologist, cancer researcher and Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer



JB Straubel

Co-Founder of Tesla



David Cameron

British Prime Minister



Itzhak Perlman

Virtuoso of the Violin



Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist, cosmologist, author and host of Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey



David Brooks

New York Times Columnist and Author



Steve Wozniak

Co-Founder of Apple, Inc.



Robert Gates

Former Secretary of Defense



Steve Levitt & Stephen Dubner

Best-Selling Authors of Freakonomics



Coach Mike Krzyzewski

Legendary Duke Basketball Coach



Gen. Tommy Franks, USA (Ret.)

Former Commander of U.S. Central Command



Doris Kearns Goodwin

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author & Presidential Historian



John Walsh

Host of America’s Most Wanted



Dr. Sylvia Earle

Marine Biologist



Dave Barry

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist



Benazir Bhutto

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan



Ehud Barak

Former Prime Minister of Israel



Dr. Beck Weathers

Mt. Everest Survivor



Dr. James Watson

Scientist & Nobel Prize Winner



Carol Burnett




Colin Powell

Former U.S. Secretary of State

F.W. de Klerk

Former President of South Africa



Dr. Jane Goodall, PhD, CBE




Sandra Day O’Connor

Former Supreme Court Justice



Jeane Kirkpatrick

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Dr. Bernie Siegel

Physician, Author



Margaret Thatcher

Former Prime Minister of Britain



Carl Sagan

American Astronomer