By Christopher Hannmann
Siena College is honored to have the opportunity to recognize the achievements of Ms. Immaculée Ilibagiza, author, and survivor of the Rwanda Genocide and James J. Barba ’66, President and Chief Executive Officer of Albany Medical Center. Both Illibagiza and Barba will he presented with honorary degrees (Doctors of Humane Letters) at this year’s commencement ceremony on May 18, 2008. Ilibagiza, who recently shared her life story with the college community on March 13th, will deliver the keynote address to the Class of 2008.
The decision to offer this honor to Ilibagiza and Barba was finalized by the Siena College Board of Trustees at their last meeting. According to Dr. Linda Richardson, Vice President for Academic Affairs, when selecting a commencement speaker, the college looks for someone who fits well with the mission of Siena as well as the college’s Franciscan heritage. “Both Ilibagiza and Barba have done great things for their communities,” states Richardson “There are many connections that can be made between what these two individuals have accomplished and what Siena College stands for.”
In particular, Ilibagiza’s story is one that will inspire many Siena students. Ilibagiza’s life was dramatically transformed during the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, when she and seven other women huddled silently together in a cramped bathroom for 91 days. She entered the bathroom a vibrant, 115 pound university student with a loving family and emerged weighing just 65 pounds only to find that her entire family had been brutally murdered (with the exception of one brother who had been studying out of the country).
The reason Ilibagiza has been selected to deliver the keynote address is not to discourage or depress graduating seniors, who will probably be sad enough at the thought of graduating, but her story should instill a sense of faith and hope for the Class of 2008 as they embark on the next chapter of their lives. It is thought that Ilibagiza’s words will cause students to reflect on their own education at Siena as well as how the past four years have caused them to transform and grow as individuals.
“Her story is one of surviving and growing through your faith”, states Richardson. “Her message of hope and faith is a message that everyone needs to hear as much as possible in this crazy world that we live in today.”