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Kimble, Tuhabonye honored on Alumni Day

Dr. H. Jeff Kimble
Dr. H. Jeff Kimble
Abilene Christian University presented its two most prestigious alumni honors Feb. 21 in a ceremony celebrating the recipients’ respective drives for improving the world.
Dr. H. Jeff Kimble (’71), the 2016 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, is the William L. Valentine Professor of Physics and founding director of the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics Distinguished Scholar for 2014-16.
The world-renowned physicist credits his career to his time spent at ACU under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Ivey (’65). Kimble was one of Ivey’s first physics students as he built the then-physics department from the ground up.
“It is disquieting for me to imagine what my life would be without ACU,” Kimble said, adding the university has “one of the country’s best undergraduate physics programs.”
Gilbert Tuhabonye
Gilbert Tuhabonye
“I’m very proud to be an alumnus of this department and ACU,” he said. “I should be holding this luncheon in honor of all of you.”
In a video tribute, Ivey was equally effusive.
“I hit the jackpot,” he said. “Imagine being a new professor and having Jeff Kimble as a student. I was the lucky guy who just happened to be here when your far greater talent came along.”
ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) described Kimble as a modern-day explorer who dedicates his life to answering the question, “What’s possible?” His research in quantum optics and quantum information science has led to improvements in the way humans communicate and compute.
“Jeff, thank you for reminding us that ACU students can change the world,” Schubert said.
Numerous students, faculty and staff from the Department of Engineering and Physics were in attendance to help honor Kimble and celebrate the successes of ACU’s science programs and new facilities. Craig Fisher (’92), director of alumni relations, specifically recognized associated professor of engineering and physics Dr. Josh Willis (’97), who took part in groundbreaking research that made global headlines three weeks ago: detecting the sound of gravitational waves as two black holes collided a billion light-years away, fulfilling the last prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Representatives from the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences were also out in force to celebrate one of their own, Gilbert Tuhabonye (’01) as the 2016 Young Alumnus of the Year.
Tuhabonye fought back tears as he accepted the award for his work as a track and field coach, motivational speaker and author, and co-founder of Gazelle Foundation, which funds and builds clean water projects in his native Burundi, Africa.
There, in 1993, Tuhabonye survived a horrific massacre in the long Tutsi-Hutu war in which he was almost burned to death during a brutal attack on his school. After eight hours of suffering, he escaped through a window and ran, on fire, to freedom.  
“He’s been running ever since … but he’s not running away from his past or from others,” Schubert said. “No – Gilbert runs toward hope and joy, and an ever-brighter future, and he invites everyone he can to come along with him for the journey.”
Tuhabonye was an NCAA Division II All-America runner while at ACU, where he majored in agribusiness, and is now the head coach for cross country and track at St. Andrews High School in Austin, Texas, and the leader of Gilbert’s Gazelles, a popular training group in the city. He tells his story in the 2006 book, This Voice in My Heart, and on Sunday spoke of his motivation for not dwelling on his past and instead finding ways to make a difference in the world.
“Yes, I survived, but what is my calling on Earth to help others?” he asked.
Since its founding in 2006, the Gazelle Foundation has provided access to clean water to 60,000 people in Burundi, Tuhabonye said.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the people who believe in me, like ACU did. Think about the transformation of a village – it takes lots of people. It doesn’t just take Gilbert.”
“What started here at ACU changed the world,” Tuhabonye said. “Thank you, ACU.”