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Indian American Faith Leaders, Serial Entrepreneur and Anti-Poverty Advocate to Speak at Commencements Across U.S.

Indian American Faith Leaders, Serial Entrepreneur and Anti-Poverty Advocate to Speak at Commencements Across U.S.

  • Graduating students in Stanford, University of Utah, Smith College and Columbia will get to be inspired by the lived experiences of the community leaders.

Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America, will give the keynote address for the University of Utah’s 2024 general campus-wide commencement on May 2. A University of Utah Impact Scholar, Patel is “a civic leader dedicated to fostering understanding and fellowship within America’s religious diversity,” the university said. A Rhodes Scholar, and an Ashoka Fellow, he is an author of five books, including “We Need to Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy.’ He served on former president Barack Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council, and is a contributing writer for the Deseret News and the host of the podcast, “Interfaith America with Eboo Patel.” He holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University. 

His message to today’s college students is to be leaders, he said in the university press release. “Be the pilot, not the passenger,” he said. “It’s the pilot’s job not just to guide the plane through turbulence but to remain calm and give people confidence. And that’s the kind of leadership we need right now.”

As campuses across the United States have seen demonstrations and tensions rise in the wake of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Patel said this moment is one that calls for students to rise up and be interfaith leaders. “Interfaith leadership is no longer a thought experiment,” he said. “There are groups of students that are no longer talking to one another and they are largely defined by their religious identity. Could you be a person they go to help facilitate a dialogue in that situation? What skills and knowledge would you need? How would you prepare for that?”

In New York, Indian American Kittu Kolluri will address Columbia Engineering’s Graduate Student Class Day on May 12. A serial entrepreneur, CEO, senior operating executive and venture capitalist with more than three decades of experience, Kolluri founded Neotribe Ventures in 2017, a venture capital firm that backs entrepreneurs focused on breakthrough technologies. He is a former Columbia Engineering parent two times over and has served on the Board of Visitors. He began his career as a software engineer at Silicon Graphics, and later co-founded his first startup, Healtheon/WebMD, which went public in 1999. He served as the founding CEO of Neoteris and ran the enterprise security and routing business as EVP/GM at Juniper Networks before becoming a general partner at NEA in 2006. As an investor, Kolluri has been actively involved with more than four dozen successful companies. He was named one of the Top 100 Venture Capitalists by New York Times/CBInsights in 2016 and is recognized as one of the best early stage investors in the industry. He earned a B.Tech. (M.E.) from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India, and an MS in operations research from SUNY, Buffalo, New York.

Graduating students at Smith College, a private liberal arts women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts, will hear from Reeta Roy, president and CEO of the Mastercard Foundation — one of the largest private foundations in the world, with approximately $40 billion in assets. Under Roy’s leadership, the foundation has “focused its work on Africa since 2009; committed to a goal of ensuring 75% of its partners are African organizations; and based the majority of the Foundation’s operations, staff, and leadership, including Roy herself, in Africa,” the foundation said. To date, the foundation has committed/deployed more than US$ 5.7 billion through financial inclusion, education, and youth livelihood programs — and as part of their pandemic response. Roy is a member of the African Transformation Leadership Panel and is regularly called upon by the United Nations, regional bodies in Africa such as the African Center for Economic Transformation, and global funders to advocate for solutions for youth employment. 

Prior to joining the Foundation, she was the divisional vice president of Global Citizenship and Policy at Abbott and was vice president of the Abbott Fund, its corporate foundation. She led Abbott’s public-private initiatives related to HIV/AIDS in Africa and a range of global health programs. Before Abbott, she held a number of leadership positions at Bristol-Myers Squibb, working on global health policy issues. Prior to joining the private sector, she worked at the United Nations. She received a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a Bachelor of Arts from St. Andrews Presbyterian College. She holds seven Honorary Doctorate degrees and has received several awards and recognitions.

See Also

On the west coast, Varun Soni, an interfaith leader who is the first Hindu to serve as the lead chaplain on a U.S. college campus, will be the keynote speaker for Stanford’s 2024 Baccalaureate celebration in June. Dean of religious and spiritual life at the University of Southern California, he will speak during the celebratory event for graduates, family members, and other guests on June 15, at Frost Amphitheater. 

Soni, who also served as USC’s inaugural vice provost of campus wellness and crisis intervention, became the first Hindu to be chief religious or spiritual leader of a college or university in American history in 2008. He holds a BA in religion from Tufts University, MTS from Harvard Divinity School, MA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, JD from the University of California, Los Angeles, and PhD from the University of Cape Town.

He was was born in India and raised in the U.S., and he has family members on five continents – who together represent every major religious tradition on the globe. As an undergraduate, he spent a semester living in a Buddhist monastery in Bodh Gaya, and, as a graduate student, spent months doing field research in South Asia. He is the author of “Natural Mystics: The Prophetic Lives of Bob Marley and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.”

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