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Maxwell to Honor Alumni, Celebrate 100th Anniversary at Centennial Celebration in DC

March 29, 2024

Alumni and friends are invited to the celebration planned for May 31 at the Smithsonian’s iconic National Portrait Gallery.

Five exceptional alumni and a milestone anniversary will be celebrated during an upcoming event in the heart of the nation.

The Maxwell School centennial celebration will be held May 31 in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. It will mark the school’s 100th anniversary as well as honor alumni and friends who have demonstrated a commitment to Maxwell’s ideals of engaged citizenship, including public service and a drive to make the world a better place for all.

The event is the school’s third annual springtime celebration in Washington, D.C. In 2022 and 2023, members of the Maxwell community gathered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, home to Maxwell’s Washington programs, for the Awards of Excellence. This year’s event will include the Awards of Excellence presentations and an expanded program to mark the school’s centennial.

This year’s Awards of Excellence honorees are B. Ben Baldanza ’84 B.A. (Econ/PSt), Carlisha Williams Bradley ’09 M.P.A., Mary Margaret Graham ’78 M.A. (SSc), Lia Miller ’03 M.P.A./M.A. (IR) and Jessica Sun ’09 M.P.A.

“In our centennial year, we are especially honored to pay tribute to these five alumni who have used their skills and influence to positively impact the lives of others and, as our guiding Athenian Oath says, ‘transmit this city’ better than they found it,” says Dean David M. Van Slyke. “The Awards of Excellence are an opportunity to share and celebrate Maxwell’s ideals in action and to inspire others.”

Bridge Award

B. Ben Baldanza ’84 B.A. (Econ/PSt)

Ben Baldanza
B. Ben Baldanza

For exemplary leadership across sectors while upholding the Maxwell School’s mission of making the world a better place, Ben Baldanza is the inaugural Bridge Award recipient. An airline industry innovator and business leader, Baldanza pioneered the ultra-low-cost carrier sector in the Americas as chief executive officer and president of Spirit Airlines (2005-16). Today, he is a board member of JetBlue Airways and chairman of Six Flags Entertainment.

Baldanza generously gives his time as a Maxwell School Advisory Board member. Through their philanthropy, he and his spouse, Marcia ’86 (special education), support the Maxwell School’s mission to inspire and educate public service-minded leaders. The Baldanza Endowment for Undergraduate Excellence funds undergraduate research and an annual awards ceremony. The Baldanza Fund for Excellence in Education Policy in Practice, administered by Maxwell and the School of Education, tests methods for increasing diversity among teachers.

Prior to Spirit Airlines, Baldanza was a senior vice president at US Airways and chief operating officer of Grupo Taca. He also worked for Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines and American Airlines. He is host of the podcast Airline Confidential and adjunct professor of economics at George Mason University.

Charles V. Willie Advocate Award

Carlisha Williams Bradley ’09 M.P.A.

Carlisha Williams
Carlisha Williams Bradley
The Charles V. Willie Advocate Award recognizes alumni whose contributions advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in their organizations or communities is reflective of Maxwell's commitment to DEIA, social justice and engaged citizenship. This year’s recipient is Carlisha Williams Bradley, whose dedication to education equity and inclusive leadership development has made an impact at the local, state and international levels.


Bradley is the founder and executive director of Women Empowering Nations, an international nonprofit that provides exposure, development and mentorship for girls of color to accelerate their path to social impact executive leadership. Its programs have created opportunities for more than 9,000 girls in more than 23 countries. Since 2020, Bradley has also provided comprehensive leadership and career coaching for women of color through her consultancy, Amplify for Women.

Bradley was the youngest and first Black woman to serve on the Oklahoma State Board of Education (2019–23) and was executive director of the youth focused nonprofit ImpactTulsa from 2018-22. She is author of the children’s book “Hey, Beautiful Girl!” (2024).

Bradley has earned numerous awards including the 2021 Dan Allen Social Justice Award, 2020 Tulsan of the Year and 2020 City Year Champion of Student Success.

Spirit of Public Service Award

Mary Margaret Graham ’78 M.A. (SSc)

Mary Margaret Graham
Mary Margaret Graham

For contributions that have had a widespread impact and reflect the ideals of the Maxwell School, Mary Margaret Graham is the recipient of this year’s Spirit of Public Service Award. Graham is a senior intelligence professional with more than 30 years of experience including as the first U.S. deputy director of national intelligence for collection from 2005-08. In this role, which was created by Congress to improve coordination among intelligence and law enforcement in the wake of 9/11, Graham was responsible for conceptualizing and managing an enterprise approach to collection across 16 Intelligence Community agencies.

Prior to this, Graham held numerous leadership assignments in her 29 years with the CIA, including associate deputy director for operations for counterintelligence, chief of the Directorate of Operation’s National Resources Division from 1999–01, and deputy chief of the Directorate of Operations Europe Division from 1998–99. 

She has earned several prestigious medals including the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal and the Secretary of Defense Medal for Meritorious Civilian Service—all in 2008, as well as the Intelligence Medal of Merit in 2005, the Donovan Award in 2001, and the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement in 1996.

1924 Award

Lia Miller ’99 B.A. A&S/Falk, ’03 M.P.A./M.A. (IR)

Lia Miller
Lia Miller

This year’s 1924 Award, honoring graduates for their distinguished and sustained professional or civic leadership and achievement in the spirit of the Maxwell School mission, is awarded to Lia Miller. Miller is a career foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State currently serving as senior advisor for Women, Peace, and Security at the U.S. Naval War College.

In her 20 years as a foreign service officer, Miller has worked extensively across the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America, focused on communications, humanitarian relief, democratic reform, DEI and other foreign policy priorities. As a public affairs officer in Armenia from 2019–22, she led efforts to counter Russian disinformation and messaging campaigns about USG-sponsored humanitarian and COVID-19 assistance. As a cultural affairs officer in Bolivia from 2016–18, she directed all public diplomacy programs related to entrepreneurship, English language promotion and youth outreach.

Miller is dedicated to empowering women, promoting peace and fostering cross-cultural understanding. She volunteers as a Diplomatic Council member with Black Professionals in International Affairs. Her writing is published in Essence, Ebony, Huffington Post, Parents, Business Insider and many other top publications.

Compass Award

Jessica Sun ’09 M.P.A.

Jessica Sun
Jessica Sun

Jessica Sun applies her expansive knowledge of housing programs, budgeting and policy analysis to the grand challenge of improving housing affordability and ending homelessness in the United States. For her exceptional accomplishments as an early-career alumna of the Maxwell School, Sun is the recipient of this year’s Compass Award.

After graduating from the Maxwell School, Sun served as a program examiner at the Office of Management and Budget’s Housing Branch, where she shaped funding decisions, regulations and policies across an array of housing and community development programs. Since 2021 she has served as a professional staff member with the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee and is the lead for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual budget.

Sun is steadfastly committed to serving those most in need and making federal spending more efficient, effective and responsive to emerging issues, such as the unprecedented spikes in rent and homelessness in the aftermath of COVID-19. In the area of disaster recovery, she has shaped policies to promote climate resilience, managed nearly $70 billion in supplemental funding for Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery, and led the development of a bill to permanently authorize the program.

By Jessica Smith


Maxwell School alumni, friends and their guests are invited to join the Maxwell School centennial celebration at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 31, in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. The event will mark the school’s 100th anniversary and honor alumni and friends who have demonstrated a commitment to Maxwell’s ideals of engaged citizenship. Those who plan to attend are asked to RSVP by Friday, May 3. Those needing special accommodations or have questions should contact

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