Anthony Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the nation's premier defender of civil liberties. An attorney by training, Romero is the first Latino and openly gay man to serve as leader of the ACLU. He took the helm of the organization just seven days before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Anticipating the impending assault on civil liberties in the name of protecting national security, Romero quickly launched the Keep America Safe and Free campaign to protect basic freedoms. Under Romero's tenure, the ACLU has filed hundreds of legal actions and seen a dramatic increase in its membership and budget. This extraordinary growth has allowed the ACLU to expand its nationwide litigation, lobbying, advocacy, and public education programs. Before joining the ACLU, Romero worked as program officer for Civil Rights and Racial Justice at the Ford Foundation — ultimately serving as the foundation’s global director for Human Rights and International Cooperation. In this capacity, he oversaw grants of $100 million a year to human rights organizations. In 2005, TIME magazine named Romero one of the “25 Most Influential Hispanic Americans.”
Critical to Romero's rise to the top were his days spent as an undergraduate student at Princeton University. He was admitted to the Ivy League school as an affirmative-action candidate in 1983. Being the first member of his family to graduate from high school, Princeton was a big culture shock to Romero, who arrived full of self-doubt. Yet despite his fears, he found that the campus was full of professors and students who “welcomed me, nurtured me, taught me." Romero quickly established a reputation for being a hard worker. Importantly, his class work allowed him to develop his abilities to articulate an argument and persuade doubters to his position. In 1987 he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, having written a senior thesis titled "Colombian Migration and Political Participation in the United States."
Romero has not forgotten his alma mater in his rise to the pinnacle of the civil liberties space. Since leaving Princeton, he's made numerous appearances. Most recently, in 2021, Romero participated in a Princeton webinar where he was asked to share reflections on hislife experiences and role as leader of the ACLU. But an even more memorable reunion happened in 2020 when Romero returned to campus to accept The Woodrow Wilson Award. The ceremony included a speech, where Romero discussed how his time at the university had shaped his research interests enormously.
“Princeton played a transformational role in my life, and I am truly humbled and honored by the award,“ he said. “The young man who came from a working-class family and a vocational high school was fundamentally changed by four years at Princeton.”
Afterwards, Romero left the stage to a standing ovation from an audience of alumni that spanned generations – countless Tigers who have benefited from his years of sacrifice and public service.