Shenandoah University President Emeritus James Davis, Ph.D., (right) and founder of The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project Twesigye Jackson Kaguri (left) will both accept honorary degrees and address Shenandoah University’s Class of 2016 during the university’s Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 14. Each will receive an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.
Dr. Davis retired in 2008, after serving as Shenandoah’s president for 26 years. He helped Shenandoah College and Conservatory become Shenandoah University, a singular entity which now has seven schools: College of Arts & Sciences, Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business, Shenandoah Conservatory, Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing, School of Education & Human Development, School of Health Professions and Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy. His vision and leadership took the institution from 874 students in 1982 to 3,300 in 2008. Under Davis, the endowment grew from $500,000 to more than $50 million.
Kaguri founded The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in 2001 in response to the devastating effects of AIDS in his hometown of Nyakagyezi, Uganda. The organization provides free education and other support to children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. Throughout the years, he has been involved extensively in international community efforts as a human rights advocate, fundraiser and inspirational speaker. Kaguri has been named a Heifer International Hero, recognized in Time magazine’s ‘Power of One’ Series and spoken to the United Nations about his work. He was named a CNN Hero in 2012.
“Jim Davis and Jackson Kaguri are shining examples of what graduates of Shenandoah strive to be – ethical and compassionate citizens who make a difference both locally and globally,” said Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D. “To have both of these amazing individuals speak to the Class of 2016 on the day that these graduates launch into the next phase of their lives is quite an honor.”
Davis served as Shenandoah’s president from 1982 to 2008. During his tenure, the institution’s physical plant grew from 14 buildings to almost 40 buildings, and academic programs increased from 11 undergraduate and two graduate programs to more than 80 undergraduate programs, 24 master’s programs and nine doctoral programs.
During his career at Shenandoah, Davis served in executive leadership roles in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and chaired more than 20 reaffirmation committees. He served as president of the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia, president of the National Association of Schools & Colleges of The United Methodist Church, a board member of the National Association of Independent Colleges & Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges, and was a member of the university senate of the United Methodist Church. Davis also chaired the EIIA Insurance consortium for 130 colleges and universities.
Davis began his professional career in 1968 as an assistant professor of history at Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia. Throughout his years at Ferrum, he also served as senior vice president, dean, academic dean, chairman of the social science division, and was a tenured faculty member. He holds an Associate of Arts degree from Ferrum, a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, a Master of Arts degree in history from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in college administration from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.
Davis has traveled extensively in more than 30 countries establishing international relationships with colleges and universities. He has been awarded honorary degrees from Bridgewater College, Randolph-Macon College, Ulyanovsk State University (Russia), Kuyshu University of Health Sciences (Japan) and Tokashima Bunri University (Japan).
He served in many lay leadership roles in the United Methodist Church and as a member and chair of many boards and agencies, including the Durell Foundation, Datatel Foundation, Ellucian, First Bank, National Fruit Product Company, Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury and Winchester Medical Center. Davis has led United Way fundraising campaigns and served as a senior member of Rotary International. His book, “Rules of Civility for the Modern Society,” has more than 20,000 copies in circulation.
Davis also served three terms in the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly, and was subsequently appointed by four different governors of the Commonwealth of Virginia to state boards and agencies.
Kaguri was born and raised in Uganda in the small village of Nyakagyezi. At a very young age, he demonstrated an unquenchable desire to learn, which led him to study at and graduate from Makerere University in Kampala. During this time, he co-founded the human rights organization Human Rights Concerns to help victims of human rights violations in Uganda and to educate the public about their rights. In the 1990s, he became a visiting scholar at Columbia University where he studied human rights advocacy.
The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, founded by Kaguri in 2001, works on behalf of HIV/AIDS orphans in rural Uganda to end systemic deprivation, poverty and hunger through a holistic approach to community development, education and health care. The organization now operates two primary schools free of charge and provides the students textbooks, uniforms, shoes, two meals every school day, medicine and scholastic materials for free. The organization also covers placement, tuition, uniforms and school expenses for all Nyaka students’ secondary and high school education. It operates a library, 10-acre farm and nutrition program, medical clinic, clean-water system, and support program for the grandmothers who care for up to 14 children at a time.
Kaguri is the co-author of “A School for My Village: A Promise to the Orphans of Nyaka” with Susan Urbanek Linville. In it, he shares how he came to build the first school and the struggles he faced during the first few years. In 2010, Kaguri resigned as interim senior director of development in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University to focus full time on The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. When not visiting the schools in Uganda or working at his office in Okemos, Michigan, Kaguri travels throughout the United States, speaking with students and supporters about the organization.
In 2015, Kaguri was awarded the Waislitz Global Citizen Award, which recognizes individual excellence in work to end extreme poverty.
Shenandoah University’s May Commencement Ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 14, 2016, on the intramural field behind the Brandt Student Center, located on the main campus of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. The ceremony will stream live, as well. Visit su.edu/commencement for more details on Shenandoah University’s 2016 Commencement exercises.