American Academy of Achievement

Our History

The American Academy of Achievement is unlike any other organization in the world. For more than 55 years, this unique nonprofit foundation has sparked the imaginations of extraordinary young people across America and around the globe by bringing them into direct personal contact with the preeminent leaders and innovators of our times.

The American Academy of Achievement was founded by Brian Blaine Reynolds, an acclaimed photographer best known for his contributions to Life magazine and Sports Illustrated. Reynolds established the Academy of Achievement to bring aspiring young people together with real-life heroes — the kind of achievers he met every week on assignment. He discovered that visionaries and pioneers, who often strike us as larger-than-life, are real people who endured setbacks and persevered through everyday challenges, like anyone else. The difference is in how they kept their eyes open to new opportunities, and in how they went about achieving their dreams. The Academy’s first annual Banquet of the Golden Plate program was held at Monterey, California in September of 1961.

President Bill Clinton speaking to Academy delegates at the 2002 International Achievement Summit in Dublin.
President Bill Clinton speaking to the Academy delegates at the 2002 International Achievement Summit in Dublin.

The Academy’s annual gatherings transfer knowledge, inspiration and the benefit of extraordinary life history from one generation of established achievers to the next generation of young people, who will, in turn, become leaders in their respective fields.

Pioneering Women of Achievement: Captain Grace Murray Hopper, USN, famed inventor, and developer of COBOL computer programming language, receives the Academy’s Golden Plate Award from Admiral James B. Stockdale, USN, Medal of Honor recipient, during the 1983 Summit in San Diego; Rosa Parks, civil rights pioneer, at the 1996 American Academy of Achievement program in Sun Valley, Idaho; Karl Eller presents the Academy’s Golden Plate Award to Hon. Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice of the United States Supreme Court, during 1987 Summit in Phoenix.

The Academy has provided thousands of outstanding young scholars, scientists and social entrepreneurs with all-expense-paid life-changing experiences, through which the rising generations whose dreams will determine our collective tomorrow have drawn inspiration from those individuals who have shaped our world of today.

President Ronald W. Reagan addressing the Academy of Achievement delegates at the 1990 Summit in Chicago.

Since 1961, these generation-spanning forums have allowed exceptional young scholars to interact one-on-one with Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winners in the arts and sciences, public servants, explorers, humanitarians, champion athletes, entrepreneurs, entertainers, and countless others who represent achievement in their respective fields. Such personal encounters send an enormously powerful message to young people raised in a world that so often values the superficial and ephemeral over the monumental and enduring.

1986, The American Academy of Achievement’s 25th-anniversary Summit at historic Mount Vernon, Virginia: (Left) Screen legend Shirley Temple Black with 3-time Heavy Weight Boxing Champion of the World Muhammad Ali at a reception. (Center) Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon and Academy Class of 1973, addressing the Summit delegates and members as Summit moderator Olivia de Havilland looks on. (Right) The internationally-acclaimed artist, Robert Rauschenberg, with Council member, paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould.

These gatherings take on special significance in light of our vastly changing world. The opportunity for students of various lands and faiths to enter into meaningful, reasoned dialogue with eminent leaders from diverse fields ignites hope for the future. Without greater understanding between nations, there can be no lasting peace, and this kind of intellectual discourse between individual leaders, both present and future, is essential to establishing such an understanding.

President George H.W. Bush, Golden Plate awardee, meets delegates at the 1995 Summit in Colonial Williamsburg.
President George H.W. Bush, Golden Plate awardee, meets delegates at the 1995 Summit in Colonial Williamsburg.

In this spirit, the Academy has established the International Achievement Summit, as well as programs such as Achievement TV and the Museum of Achievement, located in Washington, D.C. The biographies, interviews, symposiums, podcasts, textbooks and photographs presented on the Academy’s website, www.achievement.org, have been compiled from the American Academy of Achievement’s exclusive collection of interviews.

Legends of Sport: Tom Landry, Dallas Cowboys head coach and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, presents the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award to Mother Antonia Brenner, the “Prison Angel,” at the 1983 Summit in San Diego; Wayne Gretzky, heralded as the greatest hockey player of all-time, at the 1982 Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremony in New Orleans; Awards Council member and basketball all-time scoring champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar presenting the Golden Plate Award to Peyton Manning, Super Bowl champion quarterback, during the American Academy of Achievement’s 2007 International Achievement Summit held in Washington, D.C.

The Academy has developed a comprehensive video archive of historical figures, weaving their stories into a unique narrative history of our world. While we believe that everyone can benefit by exploring the lives of these extraordinary leaders, visionaries, and pioneers, we encourage students in particular to draw on these materials while forming their own judgments and values. We encourage all to study these unique figures from our common heritage, and to discover how their inspirational life stories can be used to create roadmaps to our own successful destinations.

President Barack Obama addresses the 2007 Summit in Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama addressing the delegates at the 46th annual Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C.

The Academy of Achievement held its first annual International Achievement Summit in 1999. The forum gives exceptional scholars from around the world the opportunity to interact with preeminent achievers. The Academy invites leaders in diverse fields of endeavor to attend the Summit and participate in a series of symposiums and roundtable discussions. Approximately 80 men and women — 50 distinguished previous awardees and 30 new honorees — interact with 100 delegates — graduate students, research fellows, scholars, young scientists, physicians and social entrepreneurs — over the course of several days in an informal setting.

President Jimmy Carter addresses the assemblage of Academy participants during the 1984 Salute to Excellence program at the historic Lafayette Club outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
President Jimmy Carter addresses the assemblage of Academy of Achievement members and student delegates during the 1984 “Salute to Excellence” program at the historic Lafayette Club outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Academy’s Golden Plate Awards Council, comprised of past honorees of the Academy, annually reviews a broad spectrum of candidates for invitation to the Summit. From this list, the Awards Council selects 30 new Academy honorees. The highlight of the annual International Achievement Summit occurs on the final evening of the gathering at the Banquet of the Golden Plate. At the ceremony, each honoree is presented with the Golden Plate Award and the Academy of Achievement gold medal as a “representative of the many who excel” in their chosen professions.

Awards Council member, President Gerald R. Ford, presents the Golden Plate Award to Elizabeth Taylor, recipient of two Oscars for Best Actress, at the American Academy of Achievement’s 1985 ceremonies in Denver, Colorado.

The Academy of Achievement launched its series of International Achievement Summits at Budapest, Hungary in June of 1999, in conjunction with the NATO conference hosted by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

First Lady Laura Bush, a 2007 Academy guest of honor, welcomes the delegates and members to the 46th annual Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies during the International Achievement Summit held in Washington, D.C.

The International Achievement Summit can best be described as a global celebration of the human spirit to excel that lies at the heart of the American Dream. Its honored guests are those who have made a significant difference in today’s world through individual effort in their own fields of endeavor. The roster of Academy members reads like a “Who’s Who” of achievement and includes many Nobel, Pulitzer, National Medal of Science, Business Hall of Fame, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, Medal of Honor, Tony, Grammy, Emmy, and Oscar winners.

Awards Council member and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Elie Wiesel presents the Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award to Shimon Peres at 2003 International Achievement Summit ceremony in Washington, D.C.

A sense of electricity grows throughout the program, as the delegates — through direct personal contact with past and present Academy honorees — are reminded of the shared history of human progress, and of the common heritage of individual leadership and initiative, which know no national boundaries. Similarly, the honorees draw inspiration from the promise represented by the young delegates. Generational and cultural barriers fade away as participants join in the spirit of the occasion, a celebration of the individual’s power to shape our world.

Left: International Achievement Summit Host Chairman Catherine B. Reynolds with 2004 Academy of Achievement honoree His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, at the reception in the Grand Hall of The Field Museum in Chicago. Right: Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan receives her award at the 2005 Banquet of the Golden Plate in New York.

Academy members and delegates alike come away revitalized, with a new sense of purpose. Past Academy participants from all walks of life have echoed the sentiments of General Colin Powell, who described it as “…one of the most inspiring and gratifying occasions in my lifetime of occasions.”

Steven P. Jobs, the 26-year-old co-founder and the board chairman of Apple Computer Company, with General David C. Jones, USAF, Golden Plate Awards Council co-chairman and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the American Academy of Achievement’s 1982 Banquet of the Golden Plate in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Getty Images)

The Academy’s Golden Plate Awards Council annually reviews a broad spectrum of candidates who are inspiring “exemplars of excellence” for possible invitation to the International Achievement Summit. From this list, the Awards Council — comprised of eminent past honorees of the Academy — selects 30 new honorees. Fifty illustrious previous awardees join the new honorees at the Summit, and participate in the awards presentation at the Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremony.

2014: Golden Plate Awards Council member and 1989 Academy guest of honor Oprah Winfrey introducing legend of American cinema, Sidney Poitier, at an American Academy of Achievement ceremony in Los Angeles, California; Oprah Winfrey presents one of her lifelong heroes, Sidney Poitier, with the Academy of Achievement’s Gold Medal.

The following is a partial list of Golden Plate honorees. These visionaries and pioneers — whose ideas and talents have influenced the world — have all participated in the annual International Achievement Summit and addressed the student delegates. They are listed with the year of their induction into the Academy. A more comprehensive Summary of Golden Plate recipients, grouped by decade and field of endeavor, is also available.

U.S. Presidents
2007
Barack Obama
44th President of the United States
1990
Ronald W. Reagan
40th President of the United States
1971
Gerald R. Ford
38th President of the United States
Public Servants
2017
Neil M. Gorsuch
Justice, Supreme Court of the United States
2003
Hillary Clinton
Former U.S. Secretary of State
1998
James A. Baker III
Former U.S. Secretary of State
1987
Sandra Day O’Connor
Justice, Supreme Court of the United States
1977
Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, USAF
Medal of Honor
1961
General Douglas MacArthur, USA
Congressional Gold Medal
World Leaders
2004
H.M. King Abdullah
King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
2004
H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
President of the Republic of Turkey
Champions of Human Rights
Innovators in Information Technology
1983
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, USN
Developer of COBOL Computer Language
1982
Steven P. Jobs
Co-founder, Apple Computer
1981
William R. Hewlett
Co-founder, Hewlett-Packard Company
1970
Jack S. Kilby
Inventor of the Integrated Circuit
1967
Claude E. Shannon, Ph.D.
Electronics and Mathematics
Business Leaders
2004
Michael R. Bloomberg
Founder and CEO of Bloomberg L.P.
1989
Philip H. Knight
Co-founder and Chairman, Nike, Inc.
1977
John D. MacArthur
Insurance Entrepreneur
1976
Stephen D. Bechtel, Sr.
International Construction
1973
Ray A. Kroc
McDonald's Restaurants
1972
Akio Morita
President, Sony Corporation
Sports Heroes
1990
Michael Jordan
Basketball's Most Valuable Player
1986
Muhammad Ali
Boxing Champion of the World
1982
Wayne Gretzky
Hockey's Scoring Champion
1979
Paul (Bear) Bryant
Collegiate Football Coach
1969
Mickey Mantle
Baseball Hall of Fame
Cinema and the Performing Arts
2017
Sir Michael Caine
British Film Icon
2017
Guitarist and Founder of Led Zeppelin
2003
Bob Dylan
Nobel Prize in Literature
1992
Barbra Streisand
Singer, Actress and Director
1991
Dizzy Gillespie
Master Trumpeter
1991
Audrey Hepburn
Film Actress and Ambassador
1991
Martin Scorsese
Master Filmmaker
1986
Steven Spielberg
Master Filmmaker
1985
Elizabeth Taylor
Two Oscars for Best Actress
1980
Clint Eastwood
Motion Picture Production
1979
Henry Fonda
Motion Picture Legend
1975
Ray Charles
Musician and Vocalist
1974
Jimmy Stewart
Legendary Film Actor
1972
Helen Hayes
Film and Stage Actress
1970
John Wayne
Legend of the Silver Screen
Authors
2005
Toni Morrison
Nobel Prize in Literature
2004
National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement
1988
August Wilson
Pulitzer Prize for Drama
1986
Herman Wouk
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
1977
Alex Haley
Pulitzer Prize for Roots
Artists and Architects
2014
Jeff Koons
Contemporary Art Phenomenon
1986
Robert Rauschenberg
Internationally Honored Artist
1977
R. Buckminster Fuller
Inventor of the Geodesic Dome
1971
Louis I. Kahn
Architecture
1961
Thomas Hart Benton
Painter and Muralist
1961
Yousuf Karsh
Portrait Photography
Scientists
2000
Baruch S. Blumberg, M.D., Ph.D.
Nobel Prize in Medicine
1987
John Bardeen, Ph.D.
Two Nobel Prizes in Physics
1987
Francis H. C. Crick, Ph.D.
Nobel Prize in Medicine
1975
Wernher von Braun, Ph.D.
Rocket Engineer
1966
Harold C. Urey, Ph.D.
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1961
Charles Stark Draper, Ph.D.
Aeronautics and Engineering
1961
Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson
Aircraft Design Engineer
Explorers
1973
Neil Armstrong
First Man on the Moon
1968
Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., USN
Conquest of Space
1964
Colonel John H. Glenn, USMC
First American to Orbit the Earth
International student delegates of the American Academy of Achievement at the United States Supreme Court after a dinner hosted by Awards Council members Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
2003: International student delegates of the American Academy of Achievement at United States Supreme Court after a dinner hosted by Awards Council members Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The outstanding scholars, scientists and social entrepreneurs selected to attend the International Achievement Summit are chosen from among the most distinguished young people in the world. The graduate student attendees are selected through a roster of prestigious international fellowship and scholarship programs, such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Medical Research Fellowship, the Rhodes Scholarship Trust, the Truman Scholarship Foundation, White House Fellows Program, the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation Fellowship, the Marshall Scholarship, Gates Cambridge Fellowship, and the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Fellowship Program for Social Entrepreneurship.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg receives the Golden Plate Award of the Academy of Achievement from Awards Council member Barbra Streisand at the Academy’s 1995 Summit in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia; Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Awards Council member Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speak with Academy delegates during an evening symposium and dinner at the United States Supreme Court at the 2007 International Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C.; Awards Council members Justices Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Ginsburg present the Academy of Achievement’s Gold Medal to Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the 2012 Summit in Washington.

The faculty of colleges and universities around the world also nominate student delegates for the International Achievement Summit. The student delegates have distinguished themselves not only in their academic or artistic pursuits, but also in their record of service to their schools and communities as well as to various international charitable organizations. Their interests span the full spectrum, from the sciences to law, medicine, the humanities and entrepreneurship. In addition, the Academy of Achievement invites several student delegates who have demonstrated great promise in the performing arts to participate in the Summit activities.

Awards Council member Justice Anthony M. Kennedy addresses the Academy delegates at the Supreme Court.
Awards Council member Justice Anthony Kennedy addresses the American Academy of Achievement delegates at the United States Supreme Court during the introductory dinner of the 2010 International Achievement Summit.

The Board of Directors, composed of Patrons of the Academy and representatives of the Awards Council, oversees all financial aspects of the Academy’s operation. Each year, the Academy’s Board of Directors reviews — and considers for its approval — a detailed budget. Additionally, an annual independent audit is presented to the entire Board.

Wayne R. Reynolds, Summit Host Catherine B. Reynolds, and the 2017 delegates at Claridge’s Hotel in London, England, prior to the opening reception and dinner during the 52nd annual International Achievement Summit.

The principal underwriter of the American Academy of Achievement’s International Achievement Summit is The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation. The Foundation, which has sponsored the International Achievement Summit since its inaugural gathering in Budapest, has also generously provided funding for a number of other Academy educational initiatives, including this website. A more complete listing of Academy Patrons and sponsors may be found on this website.

The Academy is a nonprofit organization within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. All contributions to the Endowment Fund and to the Academy itself are tax-deductible under federal law.

Left: U.S. Senators John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Trent Lott receive their Academy of Achievement Gold Medals at a symposium and awards ceremony held at the U.S. Capitol during the 42nd International Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C. Right: Actor George Clooney and Senator Tom Daschle chat after the summit symposium and awards ceremony at the U.S. Capitol during the 2003 International Achievement Summit held in Washington, D.C.

The lives of legendary achievers have endlessly fascinated the public. We marvel at George Washington’s selfless commitment to his country, Thomas Edison’s vision, Helen Keller’s courage. Such heights, young people often believe, could only have been scaled by someone of unparalleled genius, or persons born to privilege, or those favored by sheer luck. However, the lives and words of these heroes reveal a different story. Few were born rich. They were no more lucky or unlucky than their contemporaries. They were individuals like us, beset by the same challenges that human beings have faced throughout the ages. Their greatness lies not in accidents of birth or good fortune, but in how they met and overcame the extraordinary challenges they faced in their own lives.

Neil M. Gorsuch, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, addresses the Academy members and Marshall Scholars at historic Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, during the 2017 International Achievement Summit.

Founded on the belief that great achievers can motivate and educate others by serving as inspiring role models, Achievement TV introduces a revolutionary concept by bringing individuals who have shaped the history of our time directly into the classroom. Achievement TV is an electronic forum that allows students to meet and learn from the outstanding visionaries and leaders of the last half-century. In their own words, these famous achievers tell of their experiences, struggles, dreams and personal paths to success, and engage in a unique, lively and innovative dialogue with the young people before whom each show was taped. All students, from those deemed “at-risk” to those in advanced placement classes, can discover heroes whose words and deeds will encourage them to strive for excellence in their studies and in their lives. Achievement TV programs are broadcast on numerous educational channels.

Oscar de la Renta, Barbara Walters, Colin Powell
Awards Council member General Colin L. Powell at the 1991 Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies in New York City with Academy of Achievement inductees: fashion designer Oscar de la Renta and journalist Barbara Walters.

The American Academy of Achievement has created a museum in Washington, D.C. featuring interactive, multimedia displays telling the life stories of many of the Academy’s members and their personal paths to success. Drawing upon its archives of exclusive, first-person source material, amassed over the past five decades, the Academy has created an exciting and unique exhibition.

Golden Plate Awards Council members and 2006 Summit Hosts Steven Spielberg and George Lucas welcome the Academy delegates and members to the 45th annual International Achievement Summit in Los Angeles, California.

Through state-of-the-art technology, visitors are brought into contact with the Academy honorees who have helped shape our times. In their own words, these leaders and visionaries share the path to their achievements, as well as candid insights into their own personal and professional lives. The contributions of these individuals to humanity’s progress during the past century, and their spirit of innovation and ingenuity, will be preserved in the Academy’s museum to inspire the creative thinking of future generations.

Music impresario and Golden Plate Awards Council member Quincy Jones inducts famed musician and activist Bono into the Academy during the introductory dinner of the 2002 International Achievement Summit in Dublin.
Music impresario and Golden Plate Awards Council member Quincy Jones inducts famed musician and activist Bono into the Academy during the introductory dinner of the 2002 International Achievement Summit in Dublin.

The one-on-one video interviews of more than 200 Academy honorees are featured on the Academy of Achievement’s website, www.achievement.org, alongside multimedia curriculum modules and a podcast center of selected symposium presentations from the annual International Achievement Summit. The website also hosts a collection of biographies and historic photographs of these Academy members. Visitors can access our online library and discover which books influenced the early lives of our honorees.

Legendary Writers: Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Updike addressing Academy students and delegates at a symposium during the 2004 International Achievement Summit in Chicago, Illinois; Awards Council member and famed operatic soprano Kathleen Battle presenting the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award to Toni Morrison, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, at the Banquet of the Golden Plate gala ceremonies during the 2005 International Achievement Summit in New York City; Admired novelist and social critic Gore Vidal addressing Academy delegates and members during the 2006 International Achievement Summit in Los Angeles.

The curriculum module topics feature Academy members talking to students about their personal insights and life experiences on a wide range of topics, including civil rights, social advocacy, creative writing and leadership. The Academy of Achievement’s website receives 200 million hits per year from educators and students around the world. Our mission is to bring the personal stories of exceptional men and women to all who aspire to make a difference in their own lives.

Left: Members of the Awards Council: award-winning actress Helen Hayes, pioneer TV newscaster Lowell Thomas, and famed attorney Leon Jaworski at the American Academy of Achievement’s 1974 Banquet of the Golden Plate Award ceremonies in Salt Lake City, Utah. Right: Council member Helen Hayes presents the Golden Plate Award to screen legend Jimmy Stewart at the 1974 Banquet of the Golden Plate Award ceremonies in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In 2011, the Academy of Achievement published a library of more than 500 exclusive audio and video symposium presentations from its annual Summits on iTunes U. The Academy has continued to add to this collection, which now spans more than 30 years, from 1981 to 2017. Academy of Achievement podcasts are available to the public on iTunes U, free of charge, under the Creative Commons License. In 2015, the Academy launched a podcast series, What It Takes, on iTunes. The podcast presents the life stories and reflections of Academy members who have had a huge impact on the world, and insights you can apply to your own life. What It Takes has received millions of downloads on Apple Podcasts.

Left: The Honorable John J. Sirica, Watergate trial judge and Time magazine’s Man of the Year, with General Dan Shomron, paratroop commander of the Entebbe Airport rescue of 103 high-jacked hostages and later the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, on the head table at the 16th annual Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies in Orlando, Florida. Right: Academy guests of honor: sports journalist Howard Cosell, Alex Haley, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family, and the Emmy Award-winning actor Edward Asner at the 1977 Banquet of the Golden Plate during the American Academy of Achievement Summit held in Orlando, Florida.