At the May 4 Beacon Student Leadership Award ceremony held in the Campus Center ballroom, two McCormack Graduate School students were honored for building a children’s reading room and literacy program in the small African country of Rwanda.
Parfait Gasana and Wade Cedar believe that education is the most powerful tool for social change and the shaping of the individual. Together they solicited books and funds to establish the Kigali Reading Center, the first English-language children’s library in Rwanda, Gasana’s native land.
Ira A. Jackson, dean of the McCormack Graduate School, made the award presentation. “Here are two students of broadly dissimilar backgrounds, each shaped by adversity, who are giving back in creative, effective, and inspiring ways to provide opportunity for the underserved.”
Gasana grew up in a refugee resettlement camp in Burundi. He moved to the United States 10 years ago at the age of 17 and his tutors used children’s picture books to help with his language instruction. Cedar grew up in abject poverty and was homeless for a period of time. He was the first in his family to graduate high school and went on to graduate first in his college program at UMass Boston with a perfect GPA.
Today, classmates in the International Relations Program, the duo raised $16,000 in funds, collected over 10,000 books, hired staff, and set up literacy programs. Last summer, the classmates flew to Africa to open the library which is now serving 100 students per week.
In December, they earned the 2014 Diversity and Inclusion (DANDI) Award for their dedication to civil and human rights and social justice.
“I cannot think of two graduate students more deserving of a Beacon’s Leadership Award,” said Jackson. "They are passionate and committed to social justice and personify the best of UMass Boston leadership in the global community. As their dean, I couldn’t be more proud of who they are, what they represent, and what they have achieved. They are beacons of hope, promise, and excellence and their light shines brightly.”
The Beacon Graduate Student Leadership Award is an annual honor given to exemplary graduate students who have positively impacted campus life, displayed strong leadership qualities, engaged and encouraged other students, and displayed great potential for future achievement.