By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
On April 29, 2014 I went back to the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, where I earned my Master of Science in communication, to accept an award as the Department of Communication’s 2014 Outstanding Alumnus. Below is an abridged version of the speech I delivered in my keynote address after the award.
I feel at once honored, humbled, and delighted that I have been found worthy to be this year’s Outstanding Alum Award recipient. When I looked at the list of the past recipients of this award, which includes a former governor of this state and the publisher of the Advocate, Louisiana’s largest newspaper and one of America’s top 100 newspapers, I feel flattered, even intimidated.
But, in more ways than one, this award is bigger than me. It not only honors me; it also honors the memory of my late wife, Zainab Kperogi, who died in a car crash in Nigeria on June 4, 2010. Were it not for her persistence, sacrifice and commitment, I would never have had the courage to attend this university. When I was accepted into this department’s MS in Communication program in 2004, our first daughter, Sinani, was only a few months old. I didn’t think it was a good idea to come here and leave the care of our young daughter to my wife alone. So I wrote to ask for a deferment of my admission by a semester. But Zainab insisted I not defer the admission. She said it was important to her that I pursue my graduate education. To demonstrate the earnestness of her resolve that I go, she offered to pay—and did pay— half of my airfare to Lafayette.
When I moved to Georgia for my doctoral education, she never wavered in her support for my education. She was my most important emotional prop at all times. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see me complete my Ph.D. She would have been the happiest and proudest person today if she were alive. In more ways than I can express, this award is hers, too.
The award is also for my three children—Sinani, 9, Maryam, 5, and Adam, 4— who had endured my absence at a very early stage of their lives and who lost their mom before they even had a chance to know her. On a happy note, though, all three of my children now live with me in Georgia and absolutely love it here.
My parents, Malam Adamu Kperogi and Hajia Hauwa, who instilled in me the love for learning and the virtues of hard work and dreaming big, also share in this honor.
As the hundreds of comments and “likes” that poured in—and continue to pour in—in the wake of sharing the news of this award on my Facebook timeline show, this award also honors the thousands of people in Nigeria who read and get inspiration from my two weekly newspaper columns, one of which actually started life as “Notes from Louisiana” before changing name to “Notes from Atlanta” when I moved to Atlanta in 2006. While the seeds of my second column, “Politics of Grammar,” were sowed at Bayero University where I got my bachelor’s degree, the seeds grew and flourished here at the University of Louisiana.
I came to this university because a friend of mine from college in Nigeria who was in graduate school here in the United States—and who knew I was exploring opportunities for graduate studies in the United States— saw an advertisement for UL Lafayette’s MS in Communication program on CRTNET, a listserv managed by the National Communication Association, and called my attention to it. He thought the program was a good fit for me. I followed the link to the ad and landed on the department’s website. I loved what I saw. I liked the depth and breadth of the course offerings, the scholarly and pedagogical productivity of the faculty, and the incredibly friendly and complaisant disposition of Dr. Ty Adams who was the graduate coordinator at the time. I also researched the city of Lafayette and loved its small-town intimacy and big-city sophistication.
Coming to this program was one of the best decisions of my life. To say that UL’s Communication Department laid the foundation for my success in my doctoral studies and in my current job as a journalism professor at Kennesaw State University (Georgia’s fastest growing and third largest university) is to understate the amazing intellectual mentorship that I have had the privilege to receive from the dedicated and hardworking professors here. I'm truly indebted to the graduate faculty in more ways than I have the time to say. But it suffices to point out that I owe many of my current scholarly undertakings to the projects I started with a number of professors in this department.
For example, the independent study I signed up with Dr. Ty Adams on discursive democracy on the Internet and Habermasian public sphere theory opened an entire vista of research agendas for me. It inspired many research projects that have ended up being published in top-tier peer-reviewed journals, and formed the foundational backdrop of my doctoral dissertation.
Dr. William Neel Swain introduced me to a broad range of methodological apparatuses for conducting advanced research. This has continued to stand me in good stead even as a professor. I can’t possibly thank him enough for teaching me how to "do" research, for curing me of my disabling numerophobia, and for being one of the best and most genial professors I ever had in my entire life.
I also benefitted immensely from Dr. Robert T. Buckman's hands-on journalism instruction. He not only introduced me to the forms and singularities of American journalistic style; he was also my "American cultural education" teacher and guide. I learned more about American history, cultures and subcultures from him than I could ever learn from any textbook. His pragmatic journalism pedagogy has been a guide for my own pedagogy.
I also want to thank department chair Dr. Mike Maher who often went out of his way to make me comfortable. How can I forget Ms. Jo Ann Mendoza, the administrative assistant, who ranks as one of the pleasantest persons I’ve ever had the pleasure to know?
But, above all, I want to acknowledge the incredibly infectious warmth and friendship that I encountered among the faculty, staff, and students here in Lafayette, which prepared me for life in the American south. My friends and classmates-- Royd Anderson, Cain Rimmer, Dr. Caryn Wynters and others--who are here with us today deserve special recognition. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of you.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better place to start life in the United States than Lafayette. The city and the university were more welcoming than I ever anticipated.
Although I now live far from here, I will always consider Lafayette my first home in America. Thanks for your time and for the honor!