Clarence Otis Jr., Class of 1977, will be the keynote speaker at the College’s 220th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 7. As the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Darden Restaurants, Otis is one of only a handful of African American CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Renowned journalist Anne Garrels will deliver the Baccalaureate address on June 6.
In 2004, Otis was named CEO of Darden Restaurants, one of the world’s largest full-service restaurant companies, composed of chains including the Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and the Capital Grille. Before joining Darden, Otis was the managing director of Chemical Securities Inc., which is now JP Morgan Securities Inc.
Prior to his involvement in the financial sector, Otis received a J.D. from Stanford University and worked in New York, N.Y. as a securities attorney.
Otis grew up in Watts, Calif., where he distinguished himself as a brilliant student. In the 1960s, Otis’ South Los Angeles area was the site of infamous and deadly race riots. His father, a janitor, moved his family to Beverly Hills, and with his parents’ guidance Otis focused on his studies. After graduating from high school, Otis continued his education at Williams. He graduated magna cum laude and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
Now, although much of his life is defined by the success of Darden Restaurants, Otis is actively engaged in his Orlando, Fla. community. He serves on the board of directors of The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community. Otis is also a recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, which is given to distinguished Americans who have succeeded despite adversity and who promote the importance of higher education. Additionally, he serves on the Executive Leadership Council, which is a network for Fortune 500 African American executives.
Garrels, a senior foreign correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), will deliver the Baccalaureate address prior to Commencement. Through reporting from Iraq between 2002 and 2008, Garrels has seen life before and after the Saddam Hussein regime. She was one of a handful of Western reporters who remained in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, and has served as an embedded reporter with the Marines. After returning from her first stretch in Iraq in 2003, Garrels published a book chronicling her experiences, titled Naked in Baghdad.
Garrels has won numerous journalism accolades including the prestigious George Polk award. She graduated from Harvard’s Radcliffe College in 1972, and spent time with both NBC and ABC before joining NPR in 1988.