General Session Speakers


Michael Sorrell


Michael Sorrell

Ranked with the likes of Tim Cook and Bill and Melinda Gates on Fortune’s 2018 list of the world’s greatest leaders, Michael Sorrell transformed struggling Paul Quinn College in Dallas into one of the most innovative colleges in America. An attorney and former White House staffer, Sorrell brought a bold new vision to Paul Quinn College, focusing on academic rigor, experiential learning, and entrepreneurship. He also pioneered what he termed the “Urban Work College Model.” Inspiring, straight-talking, and with a compelling and hopeful story to tell, Sorrell received a standing ovation at SXSW Education for his dynamic delivery and groundbreaking approaches to reinventing the future of American higher education.

When Sorrell took the helm of Paul Quinn College in 2007, enrollment had been declining for more than five years, and the college was on the verge of being shut down. Today, it is considered a shining model of urban education and has a waiting list most years. As Fortune noted when naming him to their top 50, “Sorrell quickly set about challenging perceptions, both external and internal, by giving Paul Quinn a bigger vision of itself.” With a rallying cry of “WE Over Me” and a mission to end poverty, Sorrell led both a movement and a total transformation. He bolstered admissions standards, stepped up recruitment, demolished abandoned campus buildings, and, in partnership with PepsiCo, turned the football field into an organic farm that feeds the neighborhood and the Dallas Cowboys. The college has been honored as HBCU of the Year, the HBCU Student Government Association of the Year, and the HBCU Business Program of the Year and was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. It also became one of only a handful of federally recognized work colleges, a key component of the school’s reality-based educational approach.

Sorrell has received numerous awards and recognition for his civic and educational leadership. He is the only three-time recipient of the HBCU Male President of the Year award, and he was named one of America’s 10 Most Innovative College Presidents. He also received the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and PUSH/Excel’s Education Leadership Award, the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and the A. Kenneth Pye Award for Excellence in Education from Duke University’s School of Law. Sorrell received a B.A. from Oberlin, a J.D. and M.A. in Public Policy from Duke University, and an Ed.D from the University of Pennsylvania. He was the recipient of a Sloan Foundation Graduate Fellowship, studying as a graduate fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School and Duke. Before taking leadership of Paul Quinn, Sorrell enjoyed a successful career representing professional basketball players, as a public affairs consultant, attorney, and as a special assistant in the White House under Bill Clinton.

A talented and energizing presenter, Sorrell has inspired crowds at TEDx, SXSW EDU, The Aspen Institute, Duke University, and numerous other venues with his vision for education, uniting communities, and leading through challenges. His memorable speeches often include his formula for success at Paul Quinn College: Preach hope, practice patience, instill resilience, be entrepreneurial in thought and action, and, most of all, lead with love.

General Session – Transforming Higher Education

In 2007, Paul Quinn College (PQC) was a failing historically black college on a path to shut his doors within 18 months. In 2011, PQC was named the HBCU of the Year. By 2018, PQC had been transformed into one of the most innovative colleges in America with its president, Michael Sorrell, on Fortune’s list of the world’s greatest leaders. In this dynamic keynote that builds upon his breakout SXSW EDU appearance, Sorrell tells the story of PQC, where 90% of students have grown up in poverty. Sharing how values-driven leadership transformed the school from a college to a "WE Over Me" movement that pioneered the Urban Work College model, he tells the inspiring story of a college that dared to be great — and reinvented itself with a focus on academic rigor, experiential learning, and entrepreneurship. He also provides valuable insights for any organization looking to embark on transformation.


Al Young


Al Young

Al Young has a wealth of bourbon industry knowledge and experience that spans five decades. On June 5, 2017, he celebrated his 50th anniversary working for Four Roses.

In his current role as Senior Brand Ambassador, Young’s primary function is to travel the country, tell the story of Four Roses, and promote the brand. He also serves as resident historian for Four Roses, preserving the Four Roses history and archives. In 2010, Young wrote a book about the history of Four Roses titled Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend. Since then, the book has been revised and reprinted several times as more information has been discovered about the storied bourbon brand.

Young began his career in the distilling industry in 1967 in the Quality Department of Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc. (which later became Four Roses). He served as Shift Supervisor, Distillery Manager for 17 years, and was named Brand Ambassador in 2007.

Young was inducted into the prestigious Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2015, he was inducted into the Whiskey Magazine Hall of Fame and was honored as Highly Commended American Whiskey Ambassador of the Year by Whiskey Magazine’s Icons of Whiskey.

In his spare time, Young enjoys watercolor painting and is a history buff and a voracious reader. He graduated from Western Kentucky University and did graduate work at Southern Illinois University. He and his wife of 52 years reside in Lexington, KY. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.

General Session – Our Kentucky Bourbon Heritage

Al Young, has been involved in the distillery field for over 50 years and currently serves as Four Roses’ Senior Brand Ambassador. He will share the history of Kentucky and, specifically, how the bourbon industry has played an important role in shaping the past and present. The history of distilling has impacted not only Kentucky but also the nation.