For over three decades, Eric Holder has been a key player in shaping America's stance on legal issues and public policy. A lawyer by training, in 2009 Holder became the first African American to serve as U.S. Attorney General, a position he held for six years, making him the third-longest-serving AG in the country's history. Before that, Holder worked as part of the U.S. government under Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. A member of the Democratic Party, he's served as a legal advisor on various complex national and international investigations, even giving testimony in front of Congress on the legality of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. Today, Holder continues his work in the private sector, practicing law at Washington D.C.-based firm Covington & Burlington, which made him a partner in 2001. Holder's list of awards includes being added to the Top 100 Most Influential People list by TIME magazine, and receiving honorary degrees from Boston University and Stony Brook University.
Holder has two degrees from Columbia University, where he first started to show a strong inclination for law and social issues. In 1969, while a freshman at Columbia, Holder was one of several dozen students who staged an occupation of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps office, which was later renamed the Malcolm X student center. He also played freshman basketball for the school, and graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts in American history. He then decided to stay at Columbia for law school. In 1974, after his first year of legal studies, he worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund during the summer; and later he worked for the U.S. Attorney during his second summer. In 1976, he graduated with a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School.
Since graduating, Holder has become one of Columbia's most decorated alumni. The former AG was the 1996 recipient of the College’s John Jay Award for distinguished professional achievement, and the 2015 recipient of the Hamilton Alumni Medal, the College’s highest honor. He has also been a popular speaker at his alma mater. He was the Columbia College Class Day keynote speaker in 2009, a Dean’s Day speaker in 2013, and the Law School’s graduation speaker in 2010 and 2016. A member of the College’s Board of Visitors (1997–2003, 2003–2007) and Columbia Law School’s Board of Visitors (1995–2003), Holder received the Law School’s Medal for Excellence in 2010. More recently, in 2017, University leaders announced the creation of the Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. “Columbia College generated in me a real desire to explore the underlying truths to the human rights issues that have confronted our nation for so many years," Holder said after the announcement. "It is my hope that the Initiative will be a means by which... these issues can be understood and, most importantly, real progress made."