Kenyan orphan defies all odds to become graduate student at Miami
This year, the first-years were welcomed to Miami University with some inspirational words from convocation speaker James Muruthi, one of two keynote speakers.
Muruthi is a Miami graduate student in the department of sociology and gerontology. He earned his Bachelors from Miami in 2010. He is also from Kenya and has come a long way to get to where he is today.
"Like William Kwamkwamba, life has not been a bed of roses for me," Muruthi said. William Kwamkawaba’s story of bringing electricity to his village in Malawi is told in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which was the summer reading book for the first-years. "I decided to relay, what in my eyes is a miracle, to the freshmen and women in a bid to encourage them to take full advantage of the opportunities that Miami presents to them. In short, the committee and people who knew me thought that my story would encourage people to do well in school and take advantage of opportunities."
He was orphaned at the age of eight and he and his sister were taken to live with two different aunts in different cities.
According to Muruthi, he was basically treated as a slave by his aunt, being forced to quit school to focus on doing daily chores.
"As you can believe, I was always under a lot of pressure and supervision," Muruthi said. "One day, I received a thorough smacking because of unclean dishes."
After experiencing the mistreatment and torture, Muruthi decided he would rather live on the streets, where he stayed away from drugs and stealing and earned money by helping women carry luggage.
Muruthi was lucky enough to find a couple who decided to take him off the streets, educate him and legally adopt him.
"I proved to be good at school and was ranked seventh in national exams that all Kenyans do at eighth grade to allow for their admission into high schools," Muruthi told first-years in his convocation address. "I went to the best high school in Kenya, where I did well enough to gain admission to Miami of Ohio with help from a personal friend, Dr. Allan Winkler. I have been careful not to disappoint the people who have given me so many opportunities in life. Given this life and the experiences I have been through, I do not take opportunities for granted."
This year, Miami wanted current students and Miami alums to speak at Convocation. Jennifer Kinney, Muruthi’s undergraduate advisor, knew his background and encouraged Muruthi to submit his bio to the committee.
Muruthi said he was honored but a little anxious to make his speech.
"It was nerve-racking especially at the start but after realizing that it was my moment, I relaxed and had a lot of fun with it," Muruthi said. "Yes, it was exciting. It is not normal that a grad student is one of the keynote speakers at a Convocation. I felt important because all these new students, professors, some parents, my friends and President Hodge were all sitting waiting for some wise words to spew out of my mouth."
Miami has changed Muruthi’s life and, therefore, he wanted to encourage the new students to take advantage of everything Miami has to offer. Not only has Muruthi benefitted from the opportunities such as the honors program, being a Resident Assistant, Miami African Students’ Union, coaching peer mentoring and junior scholars, but he has also learned professional etiquette.
In the future, Muruthi hopes to help make a difference in the lives of other Kenyans.
"I am interested in issues of income security for older Kenyans and their families," Muruthi said. "I intend to graduate and head on to an established PhD program for another degree is gerontology. The ultimate goal is to have enough experience for a policy analyst, researcher position in an aging NGO/government or a teaching position at a university. At the end of the day, I intend to change the lives of older Kenyans and their dependents through changing existing social policies."
Chris Clark was the other keynote speaker. Clark graduated from Miami in 2008 and went on to found an international company that sells solar power units to communities in developing areas. The Miami Student will profile Clark in an upcoming issue.