PHOTO ABOVEJanuary 2020 Keynote Speaker Torrey Maldonado ’96, Linking the Chapters of Life


Headshot of Ilyse Hogue

Ilyse Hogue ’91

Senior Fellow at New America and the former President and CEO of NARAL Pro-Choice America

More about Ilyse

Complexity and Curiosity as Building Blocks for a Better World

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Friday, January 12 at 5 p.m. in Skinner Hall—Mary Anna Fox Martel Recital Hall

A classic liberal arts education, like Vassar offers, is not designed to predetermine your path in life. In fact, many—like myself—seek out liberal arts education for the purpose of transcending a myopic view of destiny that can result from our upbringings, societal expectations, and so on. Still, with today’s challenging global turmoil, a liberal arts education can feel like a luxury, or even an indulgence. How can we utilize this time we have at Vassar to make a meaningful impact once we leave?

As it turns out, the very skills you learn through liberal arts education are the ones that the world most needs right now. From war to climate change to economic and racial inequality, students today are entering a world that feels fraught with adversity and peril. In times of high stress, we also experience high polarization where people’s positions harden and move further to the extremes. However, this is also the time when we most need to challenge our own assumptions and seek to learn more than we seek to answer.

Studies show that curiosity creates healthier individuals and more robust learning environments. But what if curiosity is also the key to democracies surviving and thriving? Navigating thorny problems and seeking solutions towards progress requires complex thinking, not pat answers. Complex thinking is not possible without a posture of curiosity. The liberal arts education at its best forms minds that carry curiosity and complexity into a plethora of roles that shape the world that comes next. People change the course of history, not professions or governments or trades. Now more than ever, we need places like Vassar to instill a deep sense of curiosity and a respect for the complexity of life in order to equip the next generation that will shape a new and better world.

Keynote Address

More about Ilyse Hogue

Ilyse Hogue ’91 (she/her), the former President and CEO of NARAL Pro-Choice America, is a longtime activist, political strategist, and writer. She currently serves as a Senior Fellow at New America, a Washington-based think tank dedicated to realizing the promise of America in an era of rapid technological and social change. She’s also a Senior Adviser to Rewiring America, where she offers counsel on how to leverage the clean energy transformation into a movement for civic renewal.

Trained as an ecologist, Ilyse has put those skills to use in understanding and leveraging systems of power: social movements–both left and right—as well as systems of governance and politics. Her career has spanned issues, diving into opportunities for and barriers to collective and societal progress. As a trained scientist, she has always taken a data-driven and research-grounded orientation to effective strategies to advance social change, honing those skills in her time as a leader at, where she led the communications and advocacy efforts for the 6-million-plus member organization. Ilyse has also served as Senior Advisor to Media Matters for America, where she grew a sharp instinct for how narratives move through the information ecosystem before co-founding a Super PAC designed to expose and counter dark money in politics. Ilyse spent close to a decade as President and CEO of NARAL Pro-Choice America (now Reproductive Freedom for All). Under her tenure, the organization tripled in size. She designed and led initiatives to raise the salience of reproductive freedom in political and cultural discourse, dissecting and leveraging how to undercut its potency as a rallying cry for authoritarian forces. Her work resulted in a deep understanding of how embedded gender norms undergird so much of the current social friction.

Ilyse is the author of The Lie That Binds, a bestselling book about how gender was weaponized in service of an anti-democratic agenda in post–World War II America, and she is producing a podcast by the same name. Her work has been published in Newsweek, the Guardian, USA Today, Democracy: Journal of Ideas, the Nation, Harper’s Bazaar, and Teen Vogue. She’s been a regular guest on cable news, including MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. Hogue has most recently been at Purpose Campaigns, a global evidence-driven strategy firm, where her focus was on rising authoritarianism around the world and different strategies employed by communities and nation-states to combat the trend. When she’s not obsessing over thorny issues of democracy, power, and purpose, she is collecting rescue animals and coaching her kids’ soccer team. Ilyse lives in Washington, DC.