It was a graduation ceremony that lacked the pomp and circumstance of traditional ceremonies. There was no music, no processional. Only one student, standing before his family, friends, professors and colleagues, promising to use his education well.
"It seems that you have a great hope in me and what I can do," said Christopher B. Mugimu.
The Ugandan and former district president came to BYU from his homeland 5 1/2 years ago. The plan was simple: with the help of BYU he would gain an education and then return home to help build the Church and the community in Uganda.
Brother Mugimu, who earned master's and doctoral degrees in education, "exceeded expectations," said Steven Hite, an Educational Leadership and Foundation professor at BYU, at a ceremony held Dec. 16 to bestow the hood signifying the achievement of a doctorate. Since BYU has no winter graduation, the Education Department organized a special convocation for Brother Mugimu.
"It has been a long journey," Brother Mugimu said.
But, he added, the journey for his family — his wife, Susan, and their children: Norah, 16, Caroline, 15, Deana, 11 and Ammon, 7 — has just begun.
"Many people, once they find their way into the United States, you have to get a Caterpillar to take them out," he said. "But our contribution is to be back home. That is where we can make a difference."
Friends, neighbors and Church members "are eager and waiting for us to share the knowledge we have acquired," added Sister Mugimu, who earned a bachelor's degree in culinary arts from Utah Valley State College.
But after living in the United States for so many years, the Mugimus know returning will be a challenge. They must leave all the conveniences here and fit back into the system there, they explained. Their two youngest children, for example, don't even remember their native language.
"It is very tempting to remain here," Brother Mugimu said the week before he and his family left Jan 10. "We don't know why our Heavenly Father wanted us to come here and have this experience."
Brother Hite said Brother Mugimu could have had a nice career had he stayed in the United States. "They had viable options," he said. "A sizable number of our international students make the decision to stay here or move to Canada. That is understandable.
"Christopher is dedicated to his country and to the Church. They put that ahead of comforts and lifestyle."
Brother Hite said with his education, Brother Mugimu will now be able to accomplish "great things" in Uganda, teaching at a university or even contributing to the government.
"I don't think it will be very long before you see some significant things from Christopher," he said. "There are not too many folks who have Ph.D.'s in developing countries. Christopher will be quite an asset, not only to the educational system of the country but also to the Church."
In 1992, Brother Mugimu, an educator who ran an academy in Mukono, passed a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse and began investigating the Church. After the second discussion, he knew what he should do. "It seems I found a good Church," he told the missionaries.
He was baptized; a month later his wife followed.
To attend Church meetings in Kampala, the couple put their children on their backs and set out walking at 6 a.m. from their home in Mukono. They would then take a taxi into town and walk to Church. The entire process took three hours.
"It was miraculous," he said. "Every Sunday we had the money for travel. We did that for almost six months."
Then the Church formed a branch in Mukono; Brother Mugimu was made branch president, his wife Relief Society president. Soon he was serving as the Kampala Uganda District president.
In Utah, Brother Mugimu attended a ward with former mission presidents, stake presidents and bishops and many, many BYU professors. "This has become our home during our stay," he said. "They need us. They treat us nice. But really if it comes to sharing knowledge, this knowledge is more valuable in Uganda."
Even 7-year-old Ammon can help in Uganda by teaching computer classes, he said.
The experiences the family has had here will no doubt make a difference, said Fred Lewis, bishop of the Pleasant View 9th Ward where the Mugimus attended.
"The most amazing thing about Christopher is that he is a quiet strong leader," said Bishop Lewis.
"Our kids have been here five-and-a-half years," added Brother Mugimu. "Do you think these kids know better about how the Church should operate? I think so. This is a great opportunity for them to help build the Church in Uganda."
The family again echoed that resolve at the Salt Lake International Airport Jan. 10. Huge suitcases — packed to overflowing — became a symbol of all they had found in the United States, all they were taking home, and all the things they were leaving behind.
"Going home is the right thing to do," Brother Mugimu said. "It is what our Heavenly Father wants us to do."
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