Siena College is honored to have the opportunity to recognize the life and achievements of Ms. Immaculѐe Ilibagiza, author, and witness to the dignity and worth of the human person and the power of forgiveness.
Ms. Ilibagiza was born in Rwanda and studied Electronic and Mechanical Engineering at the National University of Rwanda. During the 1994 Genocide, her life was transformed dramatically; she and seven other women huddled silently together in a cramped bathroom of a local pastor's house for 91 days. She entered the bathroom a vibrant, 1I5-pound university student with a loving family - she emerged weighing just 65 pounds to find her entire family had been brutally murdered (with the exception of one brother who had been studying out of the country).
Ms. Ilibagiza credits her salvage mostly to prayer and to a set of rosary beads given to her by her devout Catholic father prior to going into hiding. Rather than succumbing to the anger and rage that she felt, Immaculѐe instead turned to praying the rosary as a way of drowning out the negativity that was building up inside her. Through prayer, she eventually found it possible, and in fact imperative, to forgive her tormentors and her family's murderers. Her strength in her faith empowered her to stare down a man armed with a machete threatening to kill her during her escape; later, when face to face with the killer of her mother and her brother, she said the unthinkable, "I forgive you:' She knew, while in hiding, that she would have to overcome immeasurable odds without her family and with her country destroyed. She used her time in that tiny bathroom to teach herself English with only The Bible and a dictionary; once freed she was able to secure a position with the United Nations.
Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Genocide, released in March 2006, quickly became a New York Times bestseller; has been translated into fifteen languages; and has been made into a documentary film, "The Diary of Immaculѐe.” MPPictures is now planning a major motion picture about her story. Her second book, Led By Faith: Rising Out of the Ashes of the Rwandan Holocaust, is scheduled for publication in September 2008. Ms. Ilibagiza has appeared in numerous media. She has been featured in Michael Collopy's "Architects of Peace" project, with Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. Ms. Ilibagiza has been honored with numerous humanitarian awards including: "The Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace,” 2007; and American Legacy's "Women of Strength and Courage Award.” Additionally, she was a finalist for Beliefnet.com's "Most Inspiring People of the Year 2006.” Left to Tell has received a "Christopher Award" for "affirming the highest values of human spirit" and been chosen as Outreach Magazine's "Best Outreach Testimony/Biography Resource of 2007.” Left to Tell has been adopted by numerous schools and universities, including Villanova University's "One Book Program" for its 6,000 students.
Ms. Ilibagiza recently hosted a documentary film on NBC and the Hallmark Channel: “Ready to Forgive, An African Story of Grace," a project sponsored by The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America focusing on the Acholi people of Northern Uganda and their desire to forgive their tormentors. Ms. Ilibagiza has shared her message with world dignitaries, school children, multinational corporations, and churches, while raising funds for her Left to Tell Charitable Fund, benefiting the children orphaned by the Genocide.
In recognition of her literary achievements, describing a most tragic episode of recent human history, as well as her ability to live a noble life of service to others through her relationship with God, Siena College awards Ms. Immaculѐe Ilibagiza, the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.