“Wanting to earn a post-graduate degree is a cultural thing,” said Tapiwa Gladmore Kapurura, an LL.M. candidate at the College ofLaw. “It is common among my African friends to push one another to continue our educations. Self enrichment is very important to us.”
“The program has given me new hope for myself and my career,” said Kapurura, who grew up in Zimbabwe, Africa (formerly Rhodesia), during the war for independence from Britain. Despite living in a poverty-stricken area under colonial rule, Kapurura said he experienced “freedom in its real sense” as a child, playing all day with toys he and his friends made from wires and containers.
The son of a school teacher, Kapurura earned top grades in high school and was encouraged to pursue a professional career. “I grew up asking lots of questions, so a friend of my uncle suggested I consider law,” he said. Kapurura earned a Bachelor of Laws with honors from the University of Zimbabwe in 1996. Following college, he worked for three years as an associate in a general practice firm in Zimbabwe, where he focused on criminal and probate work.
“I made a very decent living, but I was not living a prosperous life,” said Kapurura, who had limited access to even basic goods in the war-torn country. “We were living under a dictator. Laws were tightening. The foreign press was banned. Lawyers were being persecuted. No one was guaranteed a fair trial; the rule of law was gone. It was a scary time.”
When Kapurura, who had represented a member of the opposition party, began receiving threatening phone calls, he and his wife, Victoria, decided to leave their homeland. In November 2000, they moved to Dallas. “I was greatly influenced by American movies and television,” he explained. “I assumed that with only a few minor adjustments, I would be prosperous. It was the American Dream. Once here, I realized it was a fantasy.”
Kapurura faced countless difficulties transitioning to life in America. Most frustrating was the fact that potential employers could not verify his African credentials. “I couldn’t prove my experience, so it was easier to say I was a high school drop out — that way, no credentials were needed,” said Kapurura, who worked menial jobs to support his family. “People would hear my accent and immediately think I was an ignorant immigrant. The experience was humiliating.”
Kapurura hauled boxes in warehouses for three years before working his way up to an office job with Citigroup Inc. Realizing he would need credentials from an American school to reenter the legal profession, Kapurura enrolled in a paralegal studies program. When he graduated in 2005, he was hired as a compliance coordinator with Countrywide Home Loans. “For the first time since coming to the United States, I relied on my true credentials to get a job,” he said. “It was what I had dreamed working in America would be like.” Two years later, at the dawn of the financial crisis, Kapurura moved his family to Salem, Ore., in search of greater career opportunities. He worked for Wachovia Corp. for a year before enrolling in the LL.M. Program in Transnational Law at Willamette University in 2009. His graduate studies have focused on energy law and sustainability. “Corporations should not only answer to shareholders but to members of their communities as well,” he said. “Their philanthropic work should extend beyond being a tax break. In other words, corporations should not only cater to shareholders, they should consider stakeholders in the environment as well.”
Following graduation in May, Kapurura hopes to land a corporate counsel job, advising companies on conservation and consumer relations. His future plans also include possibly earning a doctoral degree in environmental law. Although he does not relish another big move, he is willing to do what it takes to meet his goals. “I’ve learned that if you work hard, America has all the resources you need to succeed,” he said. “You just need to be inventive, flexible and hardworking.”