Genocide survivor to address Founders Day

MARIETTA – A woman who spent spent 91 days scared, starving and hiding in a crowded bathroom from the genocide in Rwanda two decades ago will be the keynote speaker at the annual Founders Day on Feb. 13 at Marietta College.

Immaculee Ilibagiza in 1994 was a college student at the National University of Rwanda at the time.

“Ms. Ilibagiza is a Tutsi survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide,” Mark Miller, associate provost for academic affairs at Marietta College, said. “She and seven other Tutsi women hid in the bathroom of a Hutu neighbor for three months. For the past two decades she has been working on peace-making initiatives.”

While her country was destroyed and her family was killed while she was hiding, Ilibagiza, inspired by her religious father, overcame her fear and resentment through intense prayer.

When she was finally able to resume a normal lifestyle, Ilibagiza went to work for the United Nations in 1998. In 2006, she wrote her first book, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” which became a New York Times best seller.

According to the Washington Speakers Bureau, she has honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Notre Dame, Saint John’s University and Walsh University. She also has received numerous humanitarian awards including the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace in 2007 and the American Legacy’s Women of Strength & Courage Award.

A finalist for’s “Most Inspiring People of the Year 2006,” Ilibagiza has been featured in several documentaries and her life story will be turned into a major motion picture in the near future.

Ilibagiza is the perfect speaker to coincide with Marietta College’s theme of global issues, Miller said. Miller became interested in her story after seeing it on a “60 Minutes” documentary.

“I was amazed by it,” he said.

Miller hopes students will learn massacres that occur halfway around the world do matter in the Mid-Ohio Valley, too.

“While that happened in the ’90s, these things continue to happen,” Miller said. “There’s never an easy answer, but I hope our students can realize that being socially aware is more than just watching the news, but trying to find a way to actually make a difference.”