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5 Things to Know About Gary Knell, Our 2018 Graduation Keynote Speaker

Gary E. Knell, CEO of National Geographic Partners, will deliver the keynote speech at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies Graduation Ceremony on Saturday, May 12, 2018.

For more than 15 years, Knell has led some of the most influential media organizations as CEO. In preparation for his upcoming address, here are five facts to know:

  1. He’s a jack of all trades. Prior to his position as CEO of National Geographic Partners, Knell spent 4 years as President and CEO of National Geographic Society—its nonprofit counterpart. While overseeing the Society’s global presence in the nonprofit sphere, he also served as chair of the National Geographic Partners board. Knell’s involvement in both arms of the company led him to ensure corporate alignment.

  2. He’s a master at worldwide media operations. Knell acted as President and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR) for two years, spearheading partnerships with 900 public radio stations and overseeing the company’s efforts to support and leverage the strength of NPR’s extensive network. Knell combined his passions for philanthropy and innovation to ultimately advance NPR’s core mission and reach a wide public audience.

  3. He used to work with Elmo. Knell spent 22 years at Sesame Workshop, including 12 years as CEO. During this time he transformed the trademark show Sesame Street into a global brand. Knell was responsible for introducing Elmo, Grover, Oscar, and other staple characters to children all around the world—he even led the creation of co-productions in South Africa, India, Northern Ireland, and Egypt.

  4. He’s passionate about creativity and education. “You’ve got to have learned the world to care about the world,” Knell said. “Humans need to be aspiring for something new and that’s what drives me. Whether they’re muppeteers or journalists or photographers or explorers: these are our heroes.”

  5. He’s a huge soccer buff. Knell started playing soccer at age 11 and didn’t stop there. To this day, he visits the UK every year to see the Premier League games with his son. His professional soccer alliance lies with Arsenal—he’s even met major players like David Beckham and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Whether he’s behind the desk or on the field, Knell does not take his passions lightly—his contribution to media has lasted over three decades. As an advocate for creativity and innovation, he continues to lead National Geographic Partners through an ever-changing media landscape.