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April 24, 2024

Cleveland Institute of Art welcomes alum Omari Souza as 2024 Commencement speaker

Omari Souza


April 24, 2024

CLEVELAND—Accomplished professor and passionate communication designer Omari Souza—a Cleveland Institute of Art alum who's the visionary founder of the State of Black Design conference—will serve as Commencement speaker for CIA’s Class of 2024.

Souza is assistant professor of Communication Design at the University of North Texas as well as co-host of the highly acclaimed podcast, The Design of Business | The Business of Design. Souza earned his BFA in Technology Integrated Media Environment (T.I.M.E.-Digital Arts) from CIA in 2009.

“Returning to my alma mater is truly a privilege, as I have the opportunity to contribute to the advancement of our respective fields,” Souza says. “My experiences at the Cleveland Institute of Art have been invaluable, and I aspire to serve as inspiration for those who will continue to push boundaries in the future.

Recognizing the importance of representation and inclusivity in design, Souza founded the State of Black Design conference. This groundbreaking conference celebrates, promotes and amplifies the voices and contributions of Black designers, fostering a more equitable and diverse design industry.

In his research pursuits, Souza focuses on methods of decolonizing design practices and conducting ethical research. His exploration of these critical areas challenges existing norms and strives to create a more inclusive and responsible design landscape.

“As an accomplished designer, educator and scholar, Omari brings impressive research and expertise in equitable design with relevance and agency,” says CIA President + CEO Kathryn J. Heidemann. “I know Omari’s remarks will offer much inspiration and many insights to CIA graduates, and we’re so delighted to welcome him back to campus for Commencement.”

With a diverse background and wealth of experience, Souza has made significant contributions to various industries and academic institutions. Throughout his career, he has held roles at esteemed organizations such as VIBE magazine, Capital One, CBS Radio and Case Western Reserve University.

Souza’s journey as a first-generation American began in the vibrant borough of the Bronx, New York. His cultural heritage traces back to his Jamaican roots, adding a unique perspective to his work and worldview. Souza hopes to celebrate CIA artists’ and designers’ unique journeys but also highlight what graduates share during his address to the Class of 2024.

“While our backgrounds may vary—encompassing diverse regions, philosophies and cultural perspectives—one common thread binds us all: our connection to the legacy of this institution through our degrees,” Souza says. “As a speaker, my aim is to encourage students and colleagues to recognize that their talents and achievements are shaped, in part, by the support and guidance of parents, mentors, instructors and peers.

“We owe it to them and to the future generation of CIA alumni to shine brightly, recognizing that our success is not solely individual but a collective aspiration shared by all who have contributed to our journey. It’s imperative for us to excel not only to honor those investments but also to invest our own time and efforts in giving back to others.”

Commencement will take place at 10am Sunday, May 19 at the Maltz Performing Arts Center in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood. This ticketed event is open to CIA students, their families and members of the CIA community.

Michael C. Butz
Cleveland Institute of Art
Director of College Communications + External Relations
216.421.7404 /

Cleveland Institute of Art is a private, nonprofit college of art and design that has been the training ground for countless students who have gone on to make important contributions to the fields of creativity and innovation since it opened in 1882 as the Western Reserve School of Design for Women. Its students have designed internationally recognized products, their artwork has been exhibited in major museums and private collections around the world, and their entertainment media has been enjoyed by audiences and game players for generations. It enrolls about 600 students nationally and internationally and has a faculty of about 100 full-time and adjunct members, all of whom are practicing artists, designers and scholars.

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