Students who will leave the university after this semester will have the chance to hear final remarks from a graduate who went on to become the CEO of a national magazine.
Marcia Bullard, former president and CEO of USA WEEKEND, was announced as the keynote speaker for the Dec. 15 commencement ceremony. Originally from Springfield, Bullard began to report at age 17. She then earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from SIU in 1974 and went on to earn her master’s degree from George Washington University in 2001.
“We tell students that big things are within reach,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “Marcia demonstrates that in so many ways. She parlayed her SIU journalism degree into a very successful career. We were convinced Marcia is very much a role model who will inspire our graduates.”
Bullard was a founding editor of USA TODAY in 1982. She has worked for more than 36 years as a CEO, publisher, editor and reporter in the media.
“It was exciting to be able to be part of creating and launching a brand new newspaper because nothing like us had existed before,” Bullard said. “I don’t think there can be anything better to happen in your life than to be part of the launch of a new product. It’s challenging and scary and exciting, and if it’s successful it’s really exciting.”
Even though Bullard has retired from USA TODAY, she said she still works as a media executive and consultant based in Washington, D.C. She is also chair of the Board of America’s Charities, which is a national not-for-profit federation that helps charities raise the funds needed to do work.
“As our commencement speaker, Marcia will inspire our graduates to do another kind of important work,” Cheng said. “One of the foundations of our university has always been serving others, and Marcia is a leader in this area as well.”
Steve Delfin, president and CEO of America’s Charities, said Bullard is heavily involved in philanthropy and understands the role of leadership.
“Marcia has been a prolific leader,” he said. “She is both strategic and hands-on. She has brought structure and standards to how we do business, and she asks all the right questions. She brings a discipline to her volunteer roles as well as her business.”
During her work at USA WEEKEND, Bullard also founded Make a Difference Day in 1992. It is a national day and engages more than 3 million Americans every year in volunteer services, Bullard said.
“Leap Day fell on a Saturday that year, so we (at USA WEEKEND) came up with this idea that we could tell people to use their extra 24 hours to do good for somebody else,” Bullard said. “It was amazing, because that Saturday it turned out that 70,000 people around the country went out and did something and wrote in to tell us about it.”
Bullard serves on the boards of directors for Points of Light, the nation’s leading volunteer organization, as well as the Heart of America Foundation, which provides books and reading opportunities to children in need.
“I was brought up to believe that you should always give back to your community and to be a good citizen, and this is a way that I can do that,” she said. “Charities and nonprofit organizations always need management expertise, and my time is something that I can offer to them.”
Bullard co-founded the Marcia Bullard-Laura Hardy Endowed Scholarship Fund for female SIU students in journalism or art. She also received the SIU Distinguished Service Award in 1999 and was elected to the SIU Foundation Board of Directors last year. Bullard also serves on the SIU School of Journalism’s advisory board.
“Marcia also remains closely connected to her alma mater, and that’s something we hope all of our alumni will do,” Cheng said. “Even though she enjoys a very full life, Marcia makes it a priority to encourage and support the students who follow in her footsteps.”
Bullard transferred to SIU from community college as a junior. She said she knew she was ready for a larger school and enjoyed her experience at the university.
“The work that we did in class was really valuable as well as the hands-on experiences,” she said. “I had great teachers, and I had a lot of fun. Once I left SIU and got my first job, I was well prepared. I still had a lot to learn, but I had a really good foundation.”
Bullard served as a Miss America judge in 1997 and 2000. Her career inspired the first in a series of career books for girls, “Girls Know How: Will Stephanie Get the Story?” In each book, a girl meets a character who inspires her to be successful in various job fields.
“It was very cool and very flattering,” Bullard said. “It’s great for girls to learn about other careers that they might not be exposed to otherwise.”