Considered the father of the modern-day consumer movement, Ralph Nader is a renowned social crusader, attorney, author, and four-time presidential candidate. Chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Figures in American History, Nader’s advocacy on behalf of consumers and workers hastened into reality many features of the contemporary political landscape.
He first made headlines as a young lawyer in 1965 with his book Unsafe at Any Speed, a scathing indictment that lambasted the auto industry for producing unsafe vehicles. The book led to congressional hearings and the passage of a series of automobile safety laws in 1966. Since then, his advocacy has led to safer cars, healthier food, safer drugs, cleaner air and drinking water, and safer work environments across the United States.
Nader got his start in political activism when he attended Princeton University on a scholarship, entering the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs. During an era of conformity, his defiant personality stood out, and he was known for challenging school authorities and procedures. For example, Nader noticed several dead birds on the campus, and he protested the use of the poisonous insecticide dichlorodipehnyl-trichloroethane (DDT) on campus trees. Later, in an errant attempt to protect the consumer, he led an unpopular crusade against a local hot dog vendor. But by all accounts, Nader was an excellent student at Princeton, majoring in Far Eastern studies and economics. Typically, his free time was consumed by playing chess and engaging in long sessions of political talk with his classmates, two pastimes that would later serve him well as a lawyer. In 1955, Nader graduated with honors, magna cum laude, and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Over the years, Nader has returned to his alma mater on multiple occasions. In 1967 and 1968, he returned to the campus as a lecturer, speaking to the students about the importance of political and social change. Later, in 2000, 2008, and 2019, Nader returned to Princeton to participate in multiple public events designed to make students more aware of their value as agents of positive social change.
But it was in 1989 when Nader arguably snagged his biggest victory at Princeton, after convincing other members of the '55 class to help him endow a center that would work to get students more involved in civic affairs. What came of this grand ambition was the Princeton AlumniCorps, a non-profit that mobilizes people, organizations, and networks for the public good by developing leaders, building community, and creating and deepening social impact.
"In Ralph Nader, we have chosen a civic leader whose many accomplishments include inspiring the creation of the first independent organization of alumni dedicated to the public interest," said Andrew Nurkin, Executive Director of the Princeton AlumniCorps. He then added that the spirit of Nader continues to drive change in Princeton’s campus culture, providing graduates of any age with the tools for much-needed civic leadership in today's troubled world.