Student Spotlight

Brandman Ed.D. graduate builds trust in Catholic church leadership and herself

May 20, 2019 by Victoria Lim

When Sister Mary Amanda Nwagbo defended her doctorate of education in organizational leadership (Ed.D) dissertation, more than 40 people attended, including her own Major Superior, who flew in from Chicago to support her. An immigrant from Nigeria, and a nun, Nwagbo researched how to build trust strategies of Major Superiors in the Catholic Church. As the graduate student speaker in Saturday’s Southern Commencement for the School of Education and School of Business and Professional Studies, she challenged the 447 graduates with a question she asked herself during her program.

Sister Mary Amanda Nwagbo earned her doctorate of education in organizational leadership from Brandman University.                    

Here are her remarks:

My name is Mary Amanda Nwagbo.

I stand before you as an immigrant from Nigeria, a native daughter of the African continent, a daughter of proud African parents, and, today, a graduate of Brandman University. I have a question for you today that I’d like for you to answer in silence: Do you trust yourself?

Do you trust yourself to honor a commitment you’ve made to yourself? Such as seeing a promise or goal through to its final end? Ask yourself: Do people trust you, whether it’s family members, friends, co-workers, or classmates? Now ask yourself: Is the depth of other people’s trust in you directly correlated to the trust you have in yourself?

I admit that my journey, from the moment I left Nigeria to embark upon a higher education, to standing at this podium today, has been fraught with quiet bouts of self-doubt, an occasional lack of faith, a question of trusting myself to see this educational goal to its crowning end. As I speak, you’ll notice my native-tongue accent - would my new university community not accept me due to my distinctive speech pattern? You will also notice my headdress and eye-catching, provocative attire. Yes, I’m also a nun, a religious sister of full-time ministry, with all the requisites and restrictions thereto. What kinds of assumptions about me would my cohorts make before familiarizing themselves with my character, my work ethic, my intellect, my personality?

Could they trust me as a timely study cohort? Could they trust me to deliver with quality the assignments that our coursework required? Could they trust me not only to ask them for assistance with academic challenges but also to offer my assistance to them when my understanding of material was perhaps clearer than theirs? Could Brandman University trust me to accept and meet the rigorous academic challenges the university demands of each of its students because it knows it graduates distinctive, uniquely prepared students who are destined to be transformational leaders?

I understood the moment I stepped onto the Brandman campus that the university had taken a risk in trusting me, as with so many other students, to honor its rich academic history and to exceed its expectations. Could I trust myself to meet and exceed not only the university’s, my cohorts’, and my family’s expectations of me? But could I trust myself to meet and exceed my own? After all, I wasn’t doing this simply for others but for Mary Amanda Nwagbo as well.

Could I trust myself to honor my self-commitment? Being trustworthy, after all, starts within. Whatever endeavor we embark upon, whatever challenge we accept by our own will or that presents itself as one of the many curve balls that life will throw at each of us, we can succeed only when we trust ourselves to take the first step. This goes beyond self-confidence. Self-confidence is vital to success, but self-confidence also can be deceptive when not accompanied by humility. Trusting in oneself, in one’s abilities and talents must be balanced with reckoning with the possibility of failure.

The human aspect of trustworthiness still reigns supreme in the human experience. We are here to serve others, to help one another. To trust in ourselves to do what we can to improve the human condition. Education and compassion are at the very heart of that mission.

TBurnett and Sister Mary Amanda
I, Mary Amanda Nwagbo, stand here today as a result of my cohorts, my cohort mentor, my professors, faculty and staff, my religious sisters, my family, and the precious friendships I’ve made along the way. Their help, their trust in me, and our mutual trust in each other have made this day possible. As one of my cohort sisters would always say: “Mary Amanda, you are a celebrity!” Indeed, the faculty, staff, professors, and students of Brandman University so accepted me that I stand before you today delivering this speech.  I sincerely thank all of them and Brandman University for providing me the opportunity to enhance not only my own life and that of my religious community, but the many lives my education will afford me the opportunity to positively impact.


Brandman University trusted me to honor my end of our education covenant. Self-trust has made that possible. I encourage you to trust in yourself as you go forth in your journey. Accept failure and learn from it. Serve others. And trust in one another for the betterment of life.

Thank you.


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