Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America, will give the keynote address for the University of Utah’s 2024 general campus-wide commencement.
U President Taylor Randall and Jack O’Leary, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU), announced the commencement speaker at the Feb. 13 Board of Trustees meeting.
Patel, a U impact scholar and civic leader dedicated to fostering understanding and fellowship within America’s religious diversity, is uniquely qualified to speak to U graduates who enter the workforce at an increasingly polarized time, Randall said.
“We are very happy to have Eboo Patel serve as our 2024 Commencement speaker,” Randall said. “Eboo understands the unique moment we are in and its importance to higher education, and I believe that his message is critical for students to hear.”
A Rhodes Scholar and author of five books, including “We Need to Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy,” Patel is an Ashoka Fellow who holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University. He also served on President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council. Patel is a contributing writer for the Deseret News and the host of the podcast, “Interfaith America with Eboo Patel.”
As president of Interfaith America, Patel has led the organization’s work with governments, universities, private companies and civic organizations to brand faith as a symbol of cooperation rather than one of divisiveness.
Patel said his message to today’s college students is to be leaders.
“Be the pilot, not the passenger,” Patel 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. We need people to set up and ask the question: How am I going to make this situation better?”
As campuses across the United States, including the U, 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,” Patel 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?”
Randall said that Patel knows how to build bridges and “what it takes to innovate solutions through very difficult challenges. The Class of 2024 understands challenges as well, given many of our graduating students started their college careers at the height of the COVID pandemic. I look forward to the message he will share with our students as they embark on the next phase of their lives.”
University impact scholars—like Patel—and the knowledge and experience they bring to the U are an intrinsic part of Randall’s vision of making the university a top 10 public institution with unsurpassed societal impact. Visiting university impact scholars are appointed for two years and visit the university’s Salt Lake City campus two to three times a year. In 2023, the commencement address was given by impact scholar Tim Shriver.
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