In celebrating the founding of Converse College this year, the community gathered to hear a 2015 graduate share her deeply personal journey of discovering resilience as the daughter of a Rwandan genocide survivor and a young woman finding her life’s path in today’s world. The Student Government Association also unveiled their theme for the coming year, “We Are Change,” expressing their dedication to strengthening Converse traditions to make them inclusive and impactful for all students. And two longstanding pillars of the Converse community were honored with the College’s most prestigious awards: Dr. Brant Bynum with the Spirit of Converse Award and Marion Rivers Cato ’65 with the Dexter Edgar Converse Award. Mrs. Cato was also honored the previous evening during the Silver Soirée donor gala.
Keynote Address by Natacha Karambizi ’15
Natacha Karambizi is likely Converse’s youngest Founder’s Day speaker in history, and yet her story and perspective offers wisdom of a rare kind. It was a powerful testament to Dexter Edgar Converse’s vision that Converse enable women “to see clearly, decide wisely, and act justly.” Born and raised in Rwanda, Natacha did not see her family during the four years she attended Converse, until they traveled to the United States to see her graduate magna cum laude with a degree in chemistry. However, she formed a family-away-from-home here at Converse and spent holidays and summers with professors and friends.
In the short time since graduation, Natacha has written and published her first novella, Mahoro, a Little Girl’s Search for Peace, the story a nine-year-old girl struggling to understand and survive the genocide happening around her in Rwanda. The book was published by ImagineWE Rwanda, an organization working to develop a reading and writing culture in the country. Natacha was born just two years before the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, during which her father’s mother, nine siblings an all of their families were killed.
Her book is a story of resilience, inspired by the experiences of her fellow Rwandans and particularly of her father, who chose to rebuild his family and dedicate his life to promoting peace and reconciliation. She explained during her Founder’s Day address, “Instead of preaching hate and revenge, became involved in associations for peace and reconciliation. In 2015, he met his mother’s murderer and forgave him. Forgave him…The man who had betrayed a lifelong friendship… chose to preserve his faith in humanity by only seeing the good in people, and all the work he did as a professor and as a public servant aimed to bring out this goodness. Forgiving wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. That’s resilience to me. Remaining objective when you have all the reasons in the world not to. Taking a negative experience and transforming it into a foundation for a greater purpose.”