RICHMOND -- The Ethiopian-born owner of a local waterfront restaurant will deliver the keynote address at Holy Names University's 87th commencement on Saturday.
Menbere Aklilu, owner of Salute e Vita Ristorante, will trace her globe-spanning story to the graduating class of about 200. The event will be filmed as part of an upcoming film project about Aklilu's life.
Born in Ethiopia, she witnessed the murder of her mother. Later, Aklilu emigrated to Italy and gave birth to a son in a women's shelter in Rome. Aklilu came to the United States and got a job as a hostess at Salute e Vita in 1995, climbing the ranks and ultimately buying the Marina Bay restaurant in 2002.
Each Thanksgiving, Aklilu's restaurant serves elegant meals to hundreds of homeless families.
"Menbere's personal story is one of successive conquering of tragedy, deprivation and loss -- by faith, industry and courage," HNU President William J. Hynes said in a prepared statement. "Her story is quite amazing."
The university will grant Aklilu an honorary degree -- doctor of humane letters -- presented by state Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. at 3500 Mountain Boulevard in the Oakland hills.