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Alumni Leader: Q&A with Larry Irving ’76

Northwestern Alumni Association president prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion.

Larry Irving Hero
Larry Irving, a University trustee and a member of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors, will serve as NAA president until September 2022.Image: STEPHEN SPARTANA

Spring 2021

Growing up in a working-class community in New York City’s Queens borough, Larry Irving believed he had few options for college until a guidance counselor looked at his grades and encouraged him to consider Northwestern.

“Someone who I’ll never know wrote a check that made it possible for me to go to Northwestern,” Irving says. “The generosity of alumni and a guidance counselor who saw something in me made a big difference in my life.”

After graduating with a degree in political science, Irving attended Stanford University School of Law. He worked for the law firm Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells) and as a staffer on Capitol Hill before joining the Clinton administration, where he developed policies that helped introduce the internet to millions of people in the 1990s. Widely known for coining the phrase “the digital divide,” Irving continues his work to increase digital access around the world as president and CEO of the Irving Group, an international telecommunications and information technology consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.

Last September, Irving — who is married to Leslie Annett Wiley ’79 — became president of the Northwestern Alumni Association. He shares why he is focused on diversity, equity and inclusion and discusses the importance of listening to alumni and students.

Who are our alumni and students?

Northwestern has a global community of more than 260,000 alumni from different disciplines and backgrounds. Today we have students who come from all over the world and many students of color. Every year, more graduate students earn degrees than undergraduate students. They all have stories to tell and ways of connecting and communicating that we need to understand. 

What are your diversity, equity and inclusion priorities for the NAA?

In the 50 years I’ve been associated with Northwestern, the University has become a much more diverse institution. But diversity is generally the easy part. The harder part is equity and inclusion. Diversity is when you are invited to the party. Equity is when you’re invited to dance, and inclusion is when you have a say in the playlist. How do we make sure that everyone’s involved in the playlist

Whether you are a student, a 50-year alum or somewhere in between, the NAA needs your voice. We want to understand the needs, interests and concerns of all our alumni — and what, if any, role we have in those concerns. We want to meet alumni where they are — in life, in the world and in their career.

To better understand what our alumni need and want, I’ve committed to listening. I want to hear from everyone. Then, we need to figure out how we take the vested knowledge of our alumni and make the experience better for the students who are here now and yet to come. We want future generations to see the NAA as a welcoming and inclusive community for all students and alumni.

How is the NAA Board helping with this effort?

We have an incredibly diverse board, and that’s purposeful because we know we benefit from having all of these different touchpoints, perspectives and experiences.

The alumni association is the connective tissue for students, faculty, staff and alumni. Our job is to be supportive of every student and alum’s personal story, reach them where they are and help them continue to be a part of the Northwestern community. I’ve spent most of my professional career thinking about the benefits of being connected to each other. I firmly believe that any entity that’s connected is a better, stronger organization. That’s what the NAA is all about.

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