On Campus
Desire Ndagijimana
Desire Ndagijimana spent 20 years in a refugee camp before immigrating to the U.S. He came to OCC at the urging of an alumnus. He will be inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society later this month.

March 23, 2016 was a typical end-of-winter, start-of-spring day in Central New York. The temperature hovered around 40 degrees. At times it was overcast with a rare appearance by the sun, and at times it rained lightly. What might have seemed extremely gloomy to locals was anything but that to Desire Ndagijimana, his 5 siblings, and their parents. When their plane touched down at the Syracuse airport around 6 p.m. that night, they were pretty sure they were in paradise. "For me it was like 'Oh my God I'm coming to the land of opportunity. That's what is here!' I was very excited and nervous. It was the beginning of a new chapter. I came here with many dreams. I wanted to get a good education in this country. I wanted to change my life and be of importance to others. I wanted to work hard and take advantage of any opportunities I got."

Ndagijimana was born in 1993 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Three years later, their family fled the war-torn country to neighboring Uganda where they would spend the next 20 years in a refugee camp. "It was the worst experience. The education was not good. The health care was not good. Everything was a mess."

Fortunately, Ndagijimana was able to attend high school while he was in the refugee camp and learn English. When he arrived in the U.S., he was committed to becoming part of something bigger than himself. "I started participating in community activities, advocating for fellow refugees. I was volunteering for different non-profits. I became a person of importance to my community."

In 2021, he became a U.S. citizen. A short time later he started working on the Congressional campaign of Chol Majok, a refugee from South Sudan. He became close friends with another staffer, Blake Carter, who graduated from Onondaga Community College in 2018. "They kept inspiring me to go back to school and kept telling me 'you can do it,'" Ndagijimana said.

The decision to attend Onondaga Community College was cemented during an August 2023 meeting between Ndagijimana and Carter at Salt City Market in downtown Syracuse. "I thought maybe I was too old to go to college. But Blake kept telling me that he went to school later and that I could do it too." Carter graduated from Jordan-Elbridge High School in 2004, but didn't come to OCC until 12 years later. He would go on to receive the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, the highest honor which could be bestowed upon any SUNY student.

Following their meeting, Ndagijimana enrolled in OCC's Humanities & Social Sciences degree program and began taking classes last fall. "I was amazed by the reception here. The great professors gave me the confidence that I can be anything I want to be in this country. This is the place I want to be. I feel like I belong!"

After an outstanding first semester, Ndagijimana was invited into the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society and the Honors College. He will be welcomed into PTK during a ceremony March 27 in Storer Auditorium. "To find myself inducted is very huge for me. It puts me under pressure, but it's good pressure to keep working hard."

Ndagijimana has excelled in class while also working full-time at Access CNY. He's a Community Support Specialist who assists people struggling with mental health.

He's on schedule to complete his degree in 2025. He hopes to continue his education at Syracuse University while also helping others. "I'm very happy to call this place home. Syracuse gave me a second chance at life. I want to live the rest of my life here and help my community."

Blake Carter
Blake Carter is a 2018 Graduate of Onondaga Community College who convinced Desire Ndagijimana he could succeed here as an older student.
Onondaga Community College
Access CNY