(Kakuma) September 30, 2013 — The dream finally became a reality for 26 students as they graduated in a colorful ceremony in Kakuma refugee camp, in northwestern Kenya. It was the culmination of the students' dreams as they completed a pilot program of an online, three-year Diploma in Liberal Studies from Regis University in Denver.
On graduation day the sun rose majestically over Kakuma camp as if to mark the end of a journey that had started in 2009. From early morning, the Jesuit Refugee Service Arrupe Center, venue of the graduation ceremony and location of the classrooms, was a beehive of activity as graduating students entered the compound accompanied by family and friends.
The ceremony started with a procession by representatives of the implementing agencies: participating universities, JRS and Jesuit Commons: Higher Education on the Margins (JC:HEM). The crowd broke out into prolonged applause when the graduating students entered into the center clad in black graduation gowns complete with mortar boards. There was a palpable sense of excitement among the graduates, their families and friends as the ceremony got underway.
Speaking during the event, Fr. Peter Balleis S.J., JRS International Director, acknowledged that a dream that began nearly four years ago at three JC:HEM project sites in Kakuma, Dzaleka camp in Malawi and Amman, Jordan, had now become a reality.
"We dared to dream," said Fr Balleis.
In his address the JRS Eastern Africa Director Fr. Deogratias Rwezaura S.J., thanked the graduating students for being risk takers.
"You have made history and we are very proud of you. Investment on education is based on the belief that such investment is good for both the individual concerned and community as a whole," said Fr. Rwezaura, quoting the founding President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere.
Dr. Mary McFarland, the JC:HEM International Director, lauded the graduating students for paving the pathway for those living at the margins wishing to access higher education.
"It is impossible to believe that three years have gone by and that you are now fellow journey men with us."
Dr. McFarland further expressed her confidence in the ability of the pioneer class to bring about change in themselves and their communities.
The crowning moment of the occasion was when Dr. Patricia Ladewig, the Provost of Regis University, presented the students with their certificates. Each graduate had their moment in glory when they individually stepped onto the platform to receive their Diploma in Liberal Studies.
Speaking on behalf of the students, Stephen Odoi, president of the class of 2013, lauded JRS and JC:HEM for giving them an opportunity to pursue their education. He spoke of how hopeful the students consider themselves now that JC:HEM had opened the door of opportunity for them.
Graduate Amjima Christine reminded her fellow students of the important duty towards their country awaiting them.
According to Elizabeth Lock, the JC:HEM Kakuma Coordinator, staff are preparing to support the first class as they move on. Ms. Lock, who served as the master of ceremony during the graduation, explained that staff would be speaking to students directly to determine their exact needs, as well as starting alumni support efforts onsite in the camp.
After lunch, the proud and happy students had a chance to take commemorative photos with their families and friends. Indeed their dream had become a reality.
by Charles Njanga
JRS Eastern Africa Regional Communications Officer