Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rwanda Genocide Survivor To Speak At Immaculata Commencement

The Bulletin
May 05, 2009

Rwanda Holocaust survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of the best seller Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, will speak at Immaculata University’s commencement May 11.

Ms. Ilibagiza will receive an honorary doctorate degree during the school’s 85th graduation ceremony, and 852 students will receive diplomas at the Valley Forge Convention Center.

Sr. Constance Touey, IHM, principal of St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia, and Sr. Elaine Glanz, IHM, Ph.D., professor of English and chair of the English/Communication Department at Immaculata, will also be honored.

Sr. Touey will receive the Immaculata Medal, the highest award the university confers on an irregular basis to acknowledge someone who has made a special humanitarian or spiritual contribution to the Immaculata community. Sr. Glanz will be honored with the 2008-2009 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award.

Ms. Ilibagiza received an education in electronic and mechanical engineering at the National University in Rwanda. In 1998, after she lost most of her family during the 1994 genocide, Ms. Ilibagiza immigrated to the United States and began working at the United Nations in New York City. She is now a full-time public speaker and writer.

This will not be Ms. Ilibagiza’s first time in the Philadelphia area.

Last fall, she debated with eight other intellectuals at a roundtable discussion on “Forgiveness,” sponsored by In Character, a magazine published by the Conshohocken-based Templeton Foundation, which focuses on different virtues.

“Forgiveness” is one of Ms. Ilibagiza’s most noteworthy speech topics. During the Rwandan genocide, she and seven other women spent 91 days hiding in the bathroom of a local pastor’s house. Despite discomfort, fear and starvation, she found solace in prayer. As a result, she gained the courage and strength she needed later to forgive her tormentors and her family’s murderers.

Sr. M. Carroll Isselmann, IHM, vice president for academic affairs, hopes that Ms. Ilibagiza’s speech inspires graduates to remember: “A single individual can have a major impact in the lives of other members of society by speaking up.

“Most graduates will not be victims of the horror that Immaculée experienced, but all of us each day experience the human interactions that create challenges for us and, while they are not major affronts to our personhood, they may be hurtful. Her message is teaching us how to not be so self-centered about my hurt, but rather how to look at the other and forgive.”

Sr. Isselmann said Ms. Ilibagiza’s speech correlates with Sr. Touey’s honor.

“Sr. Constance is receiving the Immaculata Medal because of her work as an outstanding educator and her work in Catholic education,” Sr. Isselmann said. “There is a direct link between Immaculée’s story of being a victim of violence and prejudice and what they do every day at St. Francis de Sales. They carry out the education of children in nonviolence through dialogue and using the peace table in the peace room so they live together in a harmonious manner.”

Disputing students at St. Francis de Sales School are told to talk about their problem at the Peace Table in the Peace Room. Sr. Constance had been instrumental in implementing this award-winning program as principal for 20 years.

“Immaculata as a faith-based institution whose mission states clearly that we want to have our students understand peace and justice,” Sr. Isselmann said. “Graduates will see how Immaculée was a victim of injustice, but used it as an opportunity to teach the value of peace.”

Erin Maguire can be reached at emaguire@thebulletin.us


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