Academy of Achievement: Explained

TypeNon-profit organization
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., USA
Chairman & CEOWayne R. Reynolds
Vice ChairmanCatherine B. Reynolds

The American Academy of Achievement, colloquially known as the Academy of Achievement, is a non-profit educational organization that recognizes some of the highest achieving individuals in diverse fields[1] and gives them the opportunity to meet one another.[2] The academy also brings together the leaders with promising graduate students for mentorship.[3][4] The academy hosts an International Achievement Summit, which ends with an awards ceremony, during which new members are inducted into the academy.[1][5][6]


Chuck Berry presenting Golden Plate Award to Bob Dylan – 2003 Academy of Achievement Summit – DC

Founded in 1961 by Sports Illustrated and LIFE magazine photographer Brian Reynolds, the Academy of Achievement recognizes the highest achievers in public service, business, science and exploration, sports and the arts.[4][7] Reynolds established the academy after he realized that the famous people he photographed from different fields did not usually have the opportunity to interact with one another. The organization was described in a 1989 San Francisco Chronicle article as “little-publicized but immensely powerful.” According to William DeVries, who helped develop the first artificial heart, “It is a social network. Like a club. Now I can call Chuck Yeager up, or Philip ‘Bo’ Knight and they’ll return my calls, ask me out places. I promised myself I would never ask the people here for money, but I know a lot of scientists who do.”[2] Reynolds also wanted to bring together highly accomplished leaders with promising students in order to inspire them.[8][9] At the 1990 summit in Chicago, for example, student delegates “rubbed shoulders” with Ronald ReaganMaya Angelou and Michael Jordan,[10] and in 1995, top students met with inductees including George H. W. BushRuth Bader GinsburgLady Bird JohnsonRobin WilliamsMike Krzyzewski and Rosa Parks.[11]

Academy members and summit attendees have also included “Jimmy CarterRonald Reagan …Colin Powell …Maya LinBarbra StreisandMikhail GorbachevSteven Spielberg [and] George Lucas.”[12] In 2005, The Washington Post described the event as “one of the world’s most dazzling gatherings of international celebrities – Nobel Prize winners, heads of state, star athletes, titans of industry, scientists and entertainers.”[13]

In 1985, Reynolds’ son, Wayne Reynolds, took over the leadership, becoming the executive director of the academy[2] and, in 1999, was selected as the board chairman.[1][7][14] In the 1990s, Reynolds moved the organization from Malibu, California, to its new foundation headquarters building in Washington, D.C.[15]

In 2007, the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation donated $9 million to the academy.[15][14][16][17]

Oprah Winfrey presents Sidney Poitier with the Gold Medal of the Academy of Achievement in Los Angeles in 2014.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Steven Tyler at dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the American Academy of Achievement’s 2019 International Achievement Summit

Achievement Summit

2006 Summit Hosts Steven Spielberg and George Lucas welcome the academy delegates and members to the International Achievement Summit in Los Angeles

2012 Aretha Franklin is joined onstage by Academy Awards Council member General Colin Powell during her performance to close the evening of the 50th annual Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies in Washington, D.C.

The annual summit is attended by graduate students and young innovators from the U.S. and overseas, like Sergey Brin and Larry Page, computer science graduate students who later founded Google.[18][19] The summits were originally attended by high school students chosen based on their academic achievement and extracurricular activities.[1] Preceding the awards dinner are three days of panels, presentations and informal dialogues between the students and inductees. Many inductees return multiple years to participate in the panels, programming and networking.[20]

On September 9, 1961, the academy hosted its first International Achievement Summit.[2] The summit, held in Monterey, California,[21] included a “Banquet of the Golden Plate” award ceremony, named for the gold plate service used for special occasions by the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, which provided the service for the ceremony. Physicist Edward Teller was the keynote speaker, and warned of the United States’ poor performance in the atomic arms race. Awardees at the inaugural ceremony also included engineers Charles Stark Draper and Kelly JohnsonGeneral Douglas MacArthur and film director William Wyler.[2][22] Other attendees at the inaugural banquet included Nobel laureate Willard Libby (Chemistry 1960) and future Nobel laureate Luis Walter Alvarez (Physics 1968).[23] The first honorees were chosen by a national board of governors, but subsequent honorees have been selected by the Golden Plate Awards Council, which consists of prior Academy awardees.[21][22][24]

At the 13th annual summit, held in June 1974 in Salt Lake City, Academy member Leon Jaworski, the Special Prosecutor overseeing the Watergate investigations at the time, said in his keynote address that he expected to win a Supreme Court case to get subpoenaed tapes from President Richard Nixon.[25] Among the awardees at the summit were actor James Stewart, professional athlete John Havlicek,[26] and Nobel Laureate chemist Paul Flory.[27]

The 25th annual American Academy of Achievement Summit took place in 1986 in Washington, D.C.[28] The ceremony was addressed by former inductees Chuck Yeager and Erma Bombeck, and was attended by a group of 390 high school graduates assembled from across the United States.[28] New members admitted to the academy at the event included boxer Muhammad Ali,[28] filmmaker Steven SpielbergNobel Prize laureate Isidor Isaac Rabi,[28] opera singer Leontyne Price,[28] and country singer Loretta Lynn,[28][29] the first country music artist ever admitted into the academy.[29]

The 2002 summit was held in Dublin, and was hosted by then-Taoiseach (prime minister) and inductee Bertie Ahern. Former President Bill Clinton held private talks during the summit with Irish nationalist politician John Hume that reportedly concerned the conflict in Northern Ireland as well as other international conflicts.[30] New inductees into the academy in 2002 included Clinton, U2 lead singer Bono,[31] and Afghan president Hamid Karzai.[30]

The 50th anniversary American Academy of Achievement Summit was held in Washington D.C., in October 2012, and was attended by delegates from 29 countries.[32] The five-day event included a dinner at the Supreme Court of the United States, where members were joined by four of the justices.[32] Newly inducted academy members who spoke at the meeting included then-United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Nobel Prize winners Roger Tsien and Adam Riess.[32][33]

The 2021 awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles on December 23. Among the awardees was Katalin Karikó,[34] a biochemist whose research with Dr. Drew Weissman underpins the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.[35]

Notable recipients of the Golden Plate Award×280&!9&btvi=2&fsb=1&xpc=4OAS5Wa8bj&p=https%3A//

RecipientCategoryYear inductedNotes
Hank AaronSports1977[36][37]
Muhammad AliSports1986[5][38]
Neil ArmstrongScience & Exploration1973[39][37]
Stephen D. Bechtel Sr.Business1976[40]
Jeff BezosBusiness2001[41][38]
Simone BilesSports2017[42][38]
Sergey BrinBusiness2004[5][43][38]
Bear BryantSports1979[44]
Jimmy CarterPublic Service1984[45]
Ray CharlesThe Arts1975[46][37]
Bill ClintonU.S. President2002[47][48]
Francis CrickScience1987[6][38]
Joan DidionThe Arts2006[49]
Bob DylanThe Arts2003[1][38]
Clint EastwoodCinema and the Performing Arts1980[50][48]
Henry FondaCinema and the Performing Arts1979[51][48]
Gerald FordPublic Service1971[52][38]
Aretha FranklinThe Arts1999[1][38]
Bill GatesBusiness1992[53][38][54]
Ruth Bader GinsburgPublic Service1995[11][1][38]
Jane GoodallExplorer1987[55][48][56]
Mikhail GorbachevPublic Service2000[12][38]
Wayne GretzkySports1982[57][38]
Alex HaleyAuthor1977[46][48]
Jim HensonThe Arts1987[58][37]
Audrey HepburnThe Arts1991[59][38]
Sir Edmund HillaryScience & Exploration1973[30]
Grace Murray HopperScience & Exploration1983[60]
Kazuo IshiguroThe Arts2017[61]
Steve JobsBusiness1982[62][63][38]
Michael JordanSports1990[64][48]
Jack KilbyBusiness1970[65]
Coretta Scott KingPublic Service1997[1][6][38]
Ralph LaurenBusiness1989[42][38]
Richard LeakeyScience & Exploration2007[66]
George LucasThe Arts1989[2][1][67][38]
John D. MacArthurBusiness1977[46][37]
Mickey MantleSports1969[5][38]
Willie MaysSports1975[46][48]
Toni MorrisonThe Arts2005[68]
Tenzing NorgayScience & Exploration1973[69][37][70]
Sandra Day O’ConnorPublic Service1987[71]
Larry PageBusiness2004[5][38]
Rosa ParksPublic Service1995[67][11][38]
Dolly PartonCinema and the Performing Arts1992[72][64]
Linus PaulingScience & Exploration1979[39][37]
Shimon PeresPublic Service2003[1][38]
Ronald ReaganU.S. President1990[73][48]
Jonas SalkMedicine1976[46][48]
Martin ScorseseCinema and the Performing Arts1991[74][48]
Stephen SondheimThe Arts2005[68]
Steven SpielbergThe Arts1986[75][63][6][38]
Elizabeth TaylorThe Arts1985[76][77][37]
Wayne ThiebaudThe Arts1987[78]
Desmond TutuChampion of Human Rights2003[32][48]
John WayneThe Arts1970[79][62][38]
Elie WieselPublic Service1996[41][38]
Oprah WinfreyBusiness1989[2][38]
Henry WinklerThe Arts1980[80]
John WoodenSports1976[40][81]
Stevie WonderThe Arts1977[46][37]
Vladimir K. ZworykinScience & Exploration1967[82]×280&!7&btvi=3&fsb=1&xpc=RXMuoNGrdA&p=https%3A//×280&!2&btvi=4&fsb=1&xpc=3dJMsWlXWi&p=https%3A//


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