Rwandan Genocide Survivor and Author Immaculée Ilibagiza to Speak at 94th Commencement

Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza will receive an honorary degree and address the Assumption College Class of 2011 at the 94th Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 14, on the campus.

The author of Left to Tell – Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, a New York Times best-seller, Ilibagiza will speak about how her Catholic faith and prayer comforted her during her ordeal and enabled her to forgive. For 91 days in 1994, she hid with seven other Tutsi women in the tiny bathroom of a Hutu minister’s house to escape almost certain death. Over three months, 800,000 Tutsis were murdered, including most of Ilibagiza’s family. While hiding, she constantly prayed, taking comfort in the rosary beads given to her by her father.

She has since become an international speaker and passionate supporter of human rights. She established the Left to Tell Charitable Fund, which assists orphans in Rwanda with scholarships that provide such things as school clothes, fees, materials and food in some cases. She conducts “A Weekend with Immaculée Retreats” at locations throughout the country, where the attendees focus upon hope and healing. Ilibagiza has worked for the United Nations and authored three books. Her story has been featured on “60 Minutes” and she has received numerous honors and awards for her inspiring efforts.

The College also will award honorary degrees to the following three individuals for their outstanding contributions:

Fr. Richard Frechette, C.P., D.O. ’74, is a medical doctor, missionary and director of the NPH St. Damien Hospital in Haiti. Caring for orphans, ransoming hostages, providing medical assistance to children, burying the dead – it’s all in a day’s work for Fr. Frechette, who has served as a Passionist missionary in Haiti for more than 25 years.

Fr. Frechette graduated from Assumption College in 1974 with a degree in mathematics and was ordained a Passionist priest in 1979. After serving as a missionary for many years, he realized that the children of Haiti were in desperate need of medical support. Fr. Frechette came back to the United States and earned a medical degree from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1998. Along with his missionary duties, he is responsible for the healthcare at the NPH orphanage in Haiti, serving more than 350 children. He is NPH’s regional director of the Caribbean, the national director in Haiti, and a member of the NPH International Health Services Team, which oversees the medical needs of the children in nine countries. St. Damien’s is the country’s premier pediatric hospital and provides long-term care to critically ill children and outpatient services to more than 30,000 patients annually, all free of charge.

Thomas Walsh, M.D. ’74, was appointed director, Transplantation-Oncology Infectious Diseases Program and professor of medicine at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College in 2010. He also serves as an assistant attending physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Prior to that, Dr. Walsh conducted medical research at the National Cancer Institute for 25 years. His research resulted in the strategic diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of life-threatening infections in children with cancer and other immune system issues, dramatically increasing their chances to live. He has helped to train many of the world’s leading experts in the care of children with weakened immune systems who are suffering from serious infections.

He also served as a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, providing medical care to the victims of national disasters until his retirement in 2010. Dr. Walsh graduated from Assumption in 1974 with a degree in biology and earned his M.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is board certified in medicine, infectious diseases and oncology.

Susan Woodbury is the retiring chair of the board of the George I. Alden Trust, located in Worcester. Woodbury has been actively involved in numerous community organizations and institutions including the Bancroft School, the Junior League of Worcester and the Worcester Historical Museum. She continues to serve as a corporator of Worcester’s EcoTarium and the YWCA. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she began her career at Provident National Bank in Philadelphia and was the youngest female titled officer at the time of her election in 1967. She also served as a paralegal at Bowditch & Dewey from 1987-1993. She was appointed a trustee at the Alden Trust in 1993 and elected chair in 2002. The Trust focuses on supporting capital projects at private, New England colleges and universities with full-time undergraduate enrollments of 1,000-3,000 students. Over the years, the Alden Trust supported many capital projects at Assumption College, including the campus center, library, recreation center, science building and the Alden Trust Auditorium in the College’s Kennedy Memorial Hall.

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Kimberly Dunbar, Director of Public Affairs, Assumption College @AssumptionNews