Growing up in Nigeria, Kudiratu Usman, was a strong willed young woman with a passion for learning that was nurtured by her parents. She was also deaf, and in a country where deaf people often do not start school until the age of 15, Kudiratu started school when she was eight.
The message she often heard was that deaf people can’t do anything. Deaf people, especially girls, end up living on the streets.
“If I had no education, I would be living on the streets, too, but my parents believed in education,” Usman said in a keynote address at the University of Maryland University College’s Scholarship Appreciation Dinner at the UMUC Inn and Conference Center on May 30.
Usman received the Ray Ehrensberger Scholarship and expects to earn her MBA in May 2014.
“Educating myself as a disabled person has been very, very challenging,” Usman admitted to the gathering of scholarship recipients, staff, faculty and donors to UMUC. But she has not allowed her disability to deter her.
Usman earned an undergraduate degree from Gallaudet University, the premier university for the deaf in the U.S. She enrolled at UMUC because it was convenient for her to take classes online and hold down a full-time job.
Her goal is to return to Nigeria and use the business skills she has learned to help women.
“I have observed so many deaf women living in the streets, [and] it broke my heart,” Usman said. “It has inspired me to help women start businesses so they can be more self-sustaining.”
Hostage to Graduate
A second scholarship recipient—William Quarles—also addressed the audience. Quarles received the URS Wounded Warriors Scholarship but is better known as one of the American hostages taken by Iranian students and militants who stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Quarles, who was released several weeks later, was a young marine on his second assignment as an embassy guard when the crisis began.
How he got to be an embassy guard in the first place foreshadowed his character and determination to better himself and learn new things.
Quarles, who grew up in public housing, dropped out of high school and joined the Marines “to see the world,” he said.
As a Private First Class stationed on Okinawa, Japan, he applied to be an embassy guard even though he did not meet the minimum requirements, which included achieving the rank of lance corporal. The officer who conducted his interview asked why he had applied.
Quarles said he did everything he could do to be physically prepared and to pass the necessary examinations, but he could not promote himself to lance corporal. The officer recognized the private’s ambitiousness, promoted Quarles on the spot and gave him the job.
After an initial assignment in Geneva, Switzerland, Quarles was posted to Tehran. As the hostage crisis unfolded, Quarles was prepared to defend the embassy, but was instructed by his superiors to stand down.
Following his release, Quarles left the military and joined the District of Columbia Police Department. He met his future wife at the Policeman’s Ball in 1985. They now have two grown daughters whom they also instilled a passion for learning.
Quarles eventually retired from the police department, and then was forced to retire from a second career with the federal government because he was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2009 and put on dialysis. He is now recovering from a kidney transplant that was performed in May.
Remarkably, Quarles’s physical setbacks have not deterred him from seeking further education. He hopes to earn a master’s degree by this time next year and to go on to pursue a doctorate in management from UMUC, eventually launching a third career in education, teaching law enforcement officials about hostage-taking, kidnapping and terrorism.
“It’s never too late to pursue education,” said Quarles. “There are no restraints on us because of the choices we may have made in the past. We have to keep moving forward and getting better.”
UMUC awarded more than $4 million in scholarships to nearly 5500 students. The scholarships are supported by institutional funds from UMUC, corporations, organizations, and individual donors and alumni.