“MANY PEOPLE ARE CYNICAL about politics, and I can see why,” Jacinda Ardern, the former prime minister of New Zealand, told a packed John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum last November. “I was in politics for 15 years and I came out with a strong belief that politics is a place for positive change.” Ardern, the 2023 Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow and a Hauser Leader in the School’s Center for Public Leadership, was at Harvard for the fall semester after six years helming New Zealand’s government. Ardern was the youngest female head of government in the world when she was elected in 2017. She gained international recognition for her leadership following the Christchurch Mosque shootings in March 2019—she gained broad political support for legislation to ban semi-automatic weapons in just 10 days. “Some things we just carry with us for life,” Ardern said, speaking of the shootings by a white supremacist, which left 51 dead. “It was something that fundamentally changed who we were as a nation and also how we see ourselves.” Ardern also gained plaudits for her handling of the COVID pandemic in New Zealand, which took a disproportionate toll on the country’s Maori population. But it was her last message of the evening that was perhaps most inspiring. “I have been very open about the fact that I suffer from imposter syndrome, otherwise called a confidence gap,” she explained. “People ask me, ‘How did you overcome that?’ Well, I never did. And yet I was prime minister for five years in spite of that. … What I would say to you is that you never know what you are capable of until you are doing it.”

Headshot of Mick Mulvaney

“Government is always a trailing indicator, not a leading indicator. The reason Washington looks like it does is [because] the country looks like it does.”

Mick Mulvaney, former White House chief of staff, at a Forum in November
Headshot of Hepsi Barnett MPA 2000

“We are the epilogue of that story. We were held down for generations, but now we are a reformed nation exercising our sovereignty.”

Hepsi Barnett MPA 2000, former chief of staff of Osage Nation, at a screening of “Killers of the Flower Moon” at the Forum in December
Headshot of David Axelrod

“The only thing that candidates fear is a challenge from the right or the left, the most extreme voices in each party.”

David Axelrod, former chief strategist and senior adviser to President Obama, at a Forum in October
Headshot of Rochelle Walensky

“It was perceived as bold [declaring racism a public health threat]. I’m really proud to say that over 200 departments of public health have followed suit since that time.”

Rochelle Walensky, former Center for Disease Control and Prevention director, at a Forum in November
Headshot of Steve Dettelbach

“It is not part of our national story or the founders’ vision that people can’t sit on their porches in neighborhoods all over this country without being afraid of being shot.”

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director Steve Dettelbach at a Forum in October
Headshot of Shibley Telhami

“Explanation is not justification. If we don’t explain, then we are doomed.”

Shibley Telhami, Middle East expert and professor at the University of Maryland, at a Forum in October

Banner photograph by Martha Stewart; Headshots by Martha Stewart