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Donors and Students Meet

Written by Denise Krumenacker

College trustee and donor Gail Harmon, right, and student Nezia Munezero with President Jane Margaret O'Brien.
College trustee and donor Gail Harmon, right, and student Nezia Munezero with President Jane Margaret O'Brien.

“Thank You for Believing”

It’s been said that when courage, genius, and generosity hold hands, all things are possible. And one definitely got that feeling in April at the second annual St. Mary’s College of Maryland Foundation Scholarship & Awards Luncheon. The luncheon brings together donors to the scholarship programs at the College and their student recipients. The two speakers for the event—Gail Harmon, a College trustee and donor to the Baltimore Scholarship Program, and student Nezia Munezero ’08, who has lived most of her life in refugee camps— spoke of the importance of quality education in their lives.

Gail Harmon told the audience about her personal heroine, her great-grandmother, who traveled from Kansas City to New York to attend Vassar College. “In the 1860s, most Americans did not graduate from high school; most women stopped school to work in the house or on the farm. But my great-grandmother, her family, and her community had high hopes and big dreams. Her family supported her dream of attending college and her church provided a scholarship.”

“The problem we face [today],” said Gail, “is not that we don’t have enough young heroes and heroines—it’s that we don’t have the resources to give them opportunities to realize their potential. Our society is becoming divided between the very wealthy and everyone else…the need for scholarship funds is even more acute.

“We have another heroine among us— Nezia Munezero,” Gail continued. “I’m sure her children and grandchildren will tell her story of surviving the refugee camp of Tanzania, coming to a strange new country, seeking education and a better life, and, against incredible odds, persevering and graduating from college.”

Nezia was eight when her family had to flee from their home in Kigali, Rwanda, to a refugee camp in the Congo. Two years later, in 1996, they were forced to flee again, from civil war in the Congo, to the Muyovozi Refugee Camp in Tanzania. (You can read more about Nezia’s background in the September 2006 issue of the River Gazette, available at http://www.smcm. edu/rivergazette/articles/06-6-4-1.pdf)

Nezia, her parents, six brothers, and one sister arrived in America in 2002. “At St. Mary’s, I have been given the chances that I dreamt of when I was in the refugee camp,” she told the guests. “This fall, I am going to study international human rights law at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and have decided to dedicate my life to humanitarian work…My biggest goal in life is to open an orphanage in [my parents’ homeland] Burundi. My younger years in life might not have provided me much, but they did teach me to open my heart and live my life near those who do not have the opportunity to really live theirs.

“Thank you for believing in St. Mary’s and its students,” Nezia said at the end of her speech. “Thank you for giving students like myself the opportunity to be more than we ever thought possible.”

The SMCM Foundation provides nearly $1 million in scholarship support to St. Mary’s students each year. The luncheon was established in the wake of the College’s Heritage Campaign as a way to say thank you to donors and to bring awareness to the College’s mission of enhancing accessibility, affordability, and diversity. The Campaign raised almost $12 million for scholarships and created 44 new funds and awards; and, today, over 1,200 donors continue to make the dream of a college education possible for our students.