American Academy of Achievement

Our History

The American Academy of Achievement is unlike any other organization in the world. For more than 50 years, this unique nonprofit foundation has sparked the imaginations of young people across America and around the globe by bringing them into direct personal contact with the preeminent leaders 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 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.

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 addresses 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.

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, and photographs presented on the Academy’s website, www.achievement.org, have been compiled from the Academy of Achievement’s exclusive collection of interviews. 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 addresses 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.

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.

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.

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, Grammy, Emmy, Tony, and Oscar winners.

President Jimmy Carter addresses the assemblage of Academy members and student delegates 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.

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.

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.”

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.
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’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.

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
2002
William J. Clinton
42nd 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
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
2014
Aung San Suu Kyi
Nobel Prize for Peace
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
2005
Itzhak Perlman
Virtuoso of the Violin
2003
Bob Dylan
Nobel Prize in Literature
1999
Aretha Franklin
Queen of Soul
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. 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.
2012: Awards Council member Justice Anthony Kennedy addresses the Academy delegates at the Supreme Court.

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.

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.

John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Trent Lott
U.S. Senators John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Trent Lott receive their Academy Gold Medals at the 2003 Summit.

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.

2016: Former U.S. Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Henry Kissinger, Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar, The New York Public Library
2016: Former U.S. Secretary of State and Awards Council member Dr. Henry Kissinger embraces Aung San Suu Kyi, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, after the presentation of the Academy’s Golden Plate Award and Gold Medal.

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.

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. 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.

Members of the Awards Council: award-winning actress Helen Hayes, pioneer newscaster Lowell Thomas, and famed attorney Leon Jaworski at the 1975 Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies in Evansville, Indiana.
Members of the Awards Council: award-winning actress Helen Hayes, pioneer TV newscaster Lowell Thomas, and famed attorney Leon Jaworski 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 2014. 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 had more than 1 million downloads during its first year.

Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia John Sirica and Gen. Dan Shomron, 13th Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces.
The Hon. 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 headtable at the 1977 Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies in Orlando, Florida.