2012 commencement speaker announced

by Jessalyn Holdcraft

Suku Radia, CEO and President of Bankers Trust, will be Simpson College’s 2012 spring commencement speaker.

“Suku Radia is a Des Moines business leader, he’s an immigrant, he’s become very active, involved in Iowa and greater Des Moines and he really shows some excellent leadership,” said Brian Steffen, professor and chair of the department of communication. “I think he has a great face for the diversification of Iowa.”

Radia was born and grew up in Kampala, Uganda. He arrived in the United States in 1971 to attend Iowa State University. Now Radia and his family live in West Des Moines.

His record is highlighted with awards ranging from his philanthropic ventures to his work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community to aiding young professionals.

Radia’s accomplishments and vocations line up with what the commencement speaker committee was looking for in a graduation address.

“They asked what we wanted in a speaker,” said Maddy McAreavy, senior and member of the committee that chose the speaker. “We all said that we want a good message, we want a good story and something inspiring for graduation.”

“Well, I was looking for relevancy, someone who is fairly well known as a philanthropist, and someone who has an interesting story,” Professor of Art David Richmond said.

The committee was made up of faculty, staff and students.

“I think that one of the things the committee pays attention to is the type of message students want to hear, so we really try to pick people who we think will provide students with a positive message they’ll enjoy to hear,” said Steve Griffith, senior vice president and dean of academic affairs.

“Students were very active because it’s their commencement,” said Jerry Kelley, executive assistant to the president. “We wanted to find someone who students walk out and say ‘That’s exactly what I wanted to hear.’ Students are what matter.”

Seniors Tyson Wirtz and McAreavy were the student representatives on the committee.

“It was kind of cool being on the committee,” McAreavy said. “I didn’t know there were so many people involved in it.”

Radia’s story specifically appealed to members of the committee.

“I’ve known him for a number of years and I’ve heard him speak before, so there are things about him that I think would be of particular interest to Simpson students,” Kelley said. “I’m hoping that at commencement he will tell his story because he’s lived a very interesting life, but he also does good wherever he goes.”

Some of his good works include serving as the campaign chair of United Way of Central Iowa in 2009, being a member of the executive committee of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines and receiving Mr. Habitat for Humanity in 2006 and the Spirit of Philanthropy Award in 2009.

Radia will add another honor to his repertoire following graduation. On Feb. 21, the faculty voted to award Radia with an honorary degree from Simpson College.

“It’s just part of the custom,” Griffith said. “It’s not that unusual for colleges to do that kind of thing. It’s a thank you and some prestige and recognition.”

Radia’s collection of committees and awards are a reflection of his personality, Kelley said.

“His family lost everything, so he started over with nothing and ended up at Iowa State and has been very successful,” Kelley said. “He’s lived the kind of life where you look at him and say ‘I’m glad I know that guy’ and ‘he’s special’. He goes out of his way to help people who may down or who may be discriminated against or dealt with harshly, and he does what he can to help.”