Howard Grad Earns Ph.D. At 73 Years Old With Jaw-Dropping Thesis

A mortarboard head cover with elaborate blandishments as Howard University holds its' commencement ceremonies with famous alum Chadwick Boseman as guest speaker on May, 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Howard Grad Earns Ph.D. At 73 Years Old With Jaw-Dropping Thesis

Florence Nwando Onwusi Digidu survived war, illness and death to achieve her life-long dream.

Published May 20th

Written by BET Staff

Florence Nwando Onwusi Digidu may be a member of the AARP crew, but she has not allowed her senior status to stop her from achieving a life long goal. The 73-year old is a graduating member of Howard University’s Class of 2020 earning a doctorate in Communication, Culture and Media Studies.

Didigu defended her dissertation titled “Igbo Collective Memory of the Nigeria - Biafra War (1967-1970): Reclaiming Forgotten Women’s Voices and Building Peace through a Gendered Lens,” on April 26, drawing on personal memories from her own experiences as a survivor of the Nigerian Civil War that took place 50 years ago from 1967 to 1970 between Nigeria's Igbo community and the government, as stated in an official university statement

As a distinguished Sasakawa and Annenberg Fellow and the oldest of five sisters, Didigu says she is thankful to have persevered through a number of misfortunes to get to where she is today.

“In my second year at Howard, and very close to my screening test, I lost my mother and my father within months,” the former producer and writer at the Nigerian Television Authority said. “I had to return to Nigeria each time to perform the demanding burial ceremonies for each. I was completely deflated, both physically and emotionally, but I persevered because my father always wanted me to be a ‘Doctor.’”

Surviving a battle with shingles which caused paralysis on the right side of her face and the loss of her voice, Didigu told Howard that the obstacle was actually symbolic to her because she has made it her life’s mission to elevate the voices of other Igbo women. 

“The day the Nigeria-Biafra War ended, I, like everyone was wallowing in anxiety and fear about what would happen to us as the vanquished,” explained Didigu, who was once the broadcaster regulator at the National Broadcasting Commission in Nigeria. 

“A very optimistic gentleman came over to me and asked: ‘Why are you so sad; can’t you see you have survived this terrible war?’ I stood up, even though the Nigerian Airforce was on its last bombing raid, and leaped up in the air in mad glee, repeating to myself and others: ‘Yes, I have survived, I am a survivor!’ This powerful survival instinct in me, which I call daring, and God’s help, are what made me overcome all personal challenges during my doctoral program and get to where I am today!”

Carolyn Byerly, Ph.D., Didigu's advisor and chair of the Communication, Culture and Media Studies doctoral program, says she applauds the newest HU grad. 

“I admire the way she delved inside the most painful period of her life to find the focus of her research on women, war and peace. While a personally-driven project, she maintained the highest level of integrity and never made the research outcome about herself. Florence received the Sasakawa Peace Foundation Fellowship in her last year to conduct interviews with 10 female survivors of that war, and she used [the] feminist standpoint theory to interpret their stories.  It is a beautifully researched, theorized and written dissertation that demonstrates exceptional Howard scholarship.”

(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)


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