Derreck Kayongo, an African refugee, humanitarian and entrepreneur, will deliver the commencement address at the undergraduate commencement ceremony at Webster Bank Arena on May 19.
Kayongo and his family fled a civil war in Uganda and settled in the United States when he was just 10 years old. Now a successful entrepreneur, Kayongo is a renowned expert in environmental sustainability and global health as the founder of the Global Soap Project, which takes donated, melted, purified, and reprocessed hotel soap and redistributes it to vulnerable populations around the world. Currently, 5,500 hotels are members of the Global Soap Project recycling program in the United States alone, and the list of participating countries has recently expanded to 90.
Kayongo is also the CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which capitalizes on the management and leadership experience he has developed over the last 20 years working for Nobel Peace Prize-winning organizations such as Amnesty International and the American Friends Service Committee.
He has been featured as a TEDx speaker and at several corporate and university forums.
He recently coauthored The Roadmap to Success, with Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Ken Blanchard. Within this work, Kayongo focuses
on "Understanding the Instructive Power of Failure When Building Successful Ventures."
Kayongo has also been a guest on several news programs, including the Christiana Amanpour Show and the BBC's Focus on Africa. Currently he’s at work on a new book, scheduled to be released in 2016, that focuses on how he found his calling in life as a former refugee.
His life has inspired a new play which debuts this week in Atlanta, Ga. Idi Amin, America and a Bar of Soap is a solo show written by Patricia Henritze and directed by Matt Huff. The play follows Derreck from his childhood in Uganda under Idi Amin’s brutal regime, through his experiences in Kenya as a refugee, and finally into the United States as an immigrant and ultimately a citizen. In 2011 Kayongo was chosen as a CNN Hero for founding the Global Soap project.
Kayongo is a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Graduate ceremony speakers at the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts on May 18 are: Heather LaTorra, '88, M.S., '94, president and CEO of Marrakech, Inc. (afternoon ceremony) and Imma Canelli, M.S., ’94, 6th Year, ’99, former Deputy Superintendent, New Haven Public Schools (evening ceremony).
LaTorra received her bachelor's and master of science degrees in special education
at Southern Connecticut State University. In addition to her 30+ years of service
at Marrakech, Inc., she worked for the Brooklyn School for Special Children and as
an adjunct instructor for the University of Bridgeport’s IDEAL program and at Southern.
She serves as a volunteer on several nonprofit boards. She started at Marrakech in
an entry-level position and grew along with the organization, pioneering new supports
and services as well as implementing sound business and administrative practices.
Marrakech is a diverse nonprofit organization that has been providing person-centered, unique, and cost-conscious human services for children and adults, with and without disabilities, in Connecticut for over 40 years. The supports provided include career training and support, intensive medical and behavioral treatment, safe affordable housing, family services and access to community resources. Out of the multitude of services provided, the two shared outcomes are improved self sufficiency and quality of life.
Canelli, who received the 2012 Southern Connecticut State University School of Education
Outstanding Alumni Award, started out with the New Haven school district in 1978
at New Haven’s Troup Middle School, teaching 7th grade reading. Her career in the
New Haven Public Schools advanced from teacher (1978-90), to Reading Supervisor (2001-05)
implementing and managing literacy curriculum, to Director of Instruction (2005-08)
overseeing nine city schools in need of improvement and evaluation of administrators,
to her position as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. She was
appointed Deputy Superintendent in 2013 and retired at the end of the 2015-2016 school
Canelli has presented nationally at numerous reading and education conferences, developed district-wide curriculum and staff development experiences and served on numerous state committees. She earned a bachelor’s degree in intermediate-upper education (cum laude), master’s degree in reading (magna cum laude) and her sixth-year degree in educational leadership, all from Southern.