By Rev. Joseph W. Kamugisha in Texas, US
Attainment of an academic qualification, including a doctorate of philosophy, is considered an achievable milestone to hardworking, determined and smart individuals.
As such, attaining the same academic success by an individual with a physical disability, such as blindness, is not only an exceptional accomplishment, but an extra ordinary milestone.
Such was the outstanding feat attained by Samuel Muwanguzi, the only Ugandan and blind graduand among the 150 students who received their doctorates of philosophy (PhD) degrees at the University of North Texas, US, over the weekend.
Muwanguzi earned his PhD in information sciences, with a concentration in information policy and management. His research examined “an evolving national information policy for the adoption of open source software, a new technology in Uganda”.
Muwanguzi was hooded by his dissertation chair, Dr. Bill Moen, the associate dean of research in the college of information and director of Texas Center for Digital Knowledge at UNT, during a commencement ceremony presided over by the new UNT president, Dr. Neal J. Smatresk and representatives from the Texas State government and the university’s board of regency. A thanksgiving service, reception and dance were later held at St. Vincent Cathedral in Bedford, Texas on Saturday for Muwanguzi.
Between the lines
- He has published six peer-reviewed articles in international and national journals and presented papers at international and national conferences on communication, information sciences, media, and hyper media communication. He has won several scholarships and fellowships.
- Muwanguzi paid tribute to a number of individuals who played significant roles and made critical contributions that advanced his academic journey. He singled out one outstanding lady, a dear friend, Nel LaBar, who died two years ago at the age of 89.
Clad in his doctoral regalia, decorated and bedecked with two medals, three honour cords and a bouquet of freshly cut flowers – specially flown from Hawaii in recognition of his outstanding achievements in academic, leadership and volunteer work – Muwanguzi received a standing ovation when he entered the fellowship hall at St. Cathedral for the thanksgiving service and reception.
The event attracted a cross-section of guests from different African, Caucasian and Hispanic communities resident in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area and other states.
The chief celebrant was the Rev. John Kalimi of the African Fellowship Church at St. Vincent Cathedral, who is also an old boy of Ndejje Secondary School, where Muwanguzi attended his high school, a year behind Kalimi. Also at the event was the president of Uganda North American Association, Brian Kwesiga.
In his speech, Muwanguzi said his doctorate was a “community doctorate” because he would use it to serve humanity. He said he derived his inspiration from the Biblical King David who was an overcomer and a warrior and his victories were guided by his faith in God.
How Muwanguzi became blind
Without warning, Muwanguzi abruptly lost his eyesight to glaucoma and retinal detachments in February 2000. “I just woke up on the morning of February 18 and I could not see anything. I washed my eyes multiple times, but my eyes had – overnight – become a pale shadow of themselves.
I was physically and emotionally devastated because I could not see the good things I used to enjoy seeing. I cried for weeks – days and nights – but tears never restored my eyesight,” he narrated as he held back tears.
Muwanguzi said he recalled the words of the boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, who was once asked why he calls himself the “greatest.” Ali responded: “I am not great because I fight aggressively and with style, but because when I am knocked down, I muster the spirit and ability to rise up, get back into the fight, and win.”
Muwanguzi endured 12 excruciating eye surgeries in Fort Worth, Texas that only salvaged peripheral vision in his right eye.
“After I was declared legally blind, I was left with two options; to accept my changed vision condition and move on or lament the loss of my eyesight and get stuck into a bottomless pit of self-pity. I chose the former,” he said.
Muwanguzi the role model
Uganda’s Honorary Consul to Dallas, Eng. David Mureeba, said Muwanguzi’s achievement was not only exemplary, but that “Dr. Muwanguzi, you are truly a role model to all of us to look up to for positive lessons”.
The most recent recipient of a doctoral degree in the Ugandan community resident in Dallas-Fort Worth, Dr. Julius Sonko, expressed amazement at how he, as a sighted person, tried hard to write an 180-page dissertation report yet, Muwanguzi, despite his eyesight challenges, was able to write and present a nearly 500-page dissertation.
Sonko attributed Muwanguzi’s source of inspiration to his faith and love of God and urged the audience to improve their skills and knowledge by advancing their educational levels or supporting others to advance.
Lydia Odaga, an air ticketing consultant who flew in from New York to celebrate Muwanguzi’s achievement, fondly talked about the first time she met him over 25 years ago as a workmate who turned into a true friend and “son.”
She described Muwanguzi as a dedicated worker and team player from whom she learned a lot over the years in pursuit of professional excellence.
Odaga said even after Muwanguzi lost his eyesight, “I knew he was not finished because I understood better his resilience and the results are here for you and others to witness”.
Wife praises Muwanguzi
Muwanguzi’s wife, Dorothy, who was carrying their youngest son, “Dr.” Samuel Baker Tendo Muwanguzi Jr, the 3-year-old baby to whom Samuel’s dissertation was dedicated, thanked the guests for showing up and all others for supporting her husband through his six-year doctoral programme.
“I knew that he would neither let you down nor fail to raise the family banner a notch higher. He has surely done us all proud,” Mrs. Muwanguzi said of her husband.
The couple has four sons; Brian, Kenneth, Michael, Samuel Jr. and one grandson, an 11-month-old Kenneth Lee Muwanguzi.
Who is Muwanguzi?
l Trained as a journalist in Germany, UK, South Africa and the Netherlands.
l Worked as a news editor for the Weekly Topic newspaper between 1993 and 1994. He had earlier worked at the Focus and the Mail newspapers, before joining Radio Uganda as a news editor in 1990.
l He earned his bachelor’s degree in literature in English and German (1986) and a post-graduate diploma in education (1991) from Makerere University Kampala, Uganda.
l Following the loss of his eyesight, Muwanguzi retired from civil service in 2001 and migrated to the US. He completed a one-year blindness development skills course at the Criss Cole Centre for the Blind in Austin, Texas (2003).
l Attained a master’s in communication studies at the University of North Texas (2005).
Muwanguzi academic dream that nearly died at the master’s level
At the beginning of his master’s programme in 2003, Muwanguzi nearly dropped out after completing two semesters in default of $12,000 (about sh30m) in short-term and memorial loans from the school.
But, by God’s grace, before the start of his third semester in graduate school, Muwanguzi won a scholarship from the Texas State Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and an award from the National Federation of the Blind, based in Virginia to fully pay the outstanding debt.