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Moving Forward – The Philosophy of a Grad Who Has Overcome Amazing Obstacles

Life has thrown numerous curves at Prince Augustine Nnatubeugo, including blindness at the age of 16. He's navigated them all on his way to earning his degree in criminal justice from UC at the 9 a.m. Commencement ceremony on June 13.

Date: 6/8/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photos By: Dottie Stover

UC ingot   Many times in recent years, you have heard of the accomplishments of “non-traditional” students who have overcome the odds to earn their college degree. Prince Augustine Nnatubeugo redefines the term “non-traditional.” Somewhere in describing him, the word “unbelievable” probably ought to also come into play.

It is safe to say that no student who has ever graduated from UC has traveled quite the same path that Nnatubeugo – his friends just call him “Prince,” so for simplicity’s sake, we will, too, for the rest of this story – has traversed on his way to the Fifth Third Arena stage on June 13, when he will receive his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Tragedies, successes, near-death experiences and numerous moments that affirmed the value of life all marked Prince’s path to graduation day.
Prince Augustine Nnatubeugo in Assistant Professor Ruth Seiple's Operational Management class.
Prince Augustine Nnatubeugo in Assistant Professor Ruth Seiple's Operational Management class.

Mastering the lessons in college classrooms was no match for his desire, once he learned one of the central lessons of life. “Bring all the challenges to challenge me you can find,” Prince says. “As long as I draw a breath, I’m going to keep trying.”

Prince has been a Cincinnati resident since 1986. He came to the United States in 1982 from his native Nigeria.

He was a teenager when he emigrated, immediately after an event that dramatically altered the course of – and nearly ended – his life.

Just a week after he began driving, Prince was in a rural area of Nigeria where the road winds through mountainous terrain. Coming around a bend, he encountered a broken-down minivan. The minivan wasn’t broken down, though – it had been overtaken by highway robbers. Prince was the fourth vehicle to encounter the scene, but by the time he realized what was taking place, it was too late. The robbers shot him in the head and left him for dead.

It took hours for Prince to get to a hospital, and his family was told, once he arrived, that he would not last long. “But I never lost my consciousness,” Prince says. “That was the miraculous part of it. At one point when I heard the doctors talking, I sat up yelling and said, ‘You are not God.’ ”

Prince surprised his doctors, but the shooting would still result in a huge impact in his life – a metal plate was inserted where his skull had been shattered, he had major structural damage in his forehead and around his eyes, and he was left blind.

At the time, Prince had two older brothers who were studying in the United States at Central State University, outside of Dayton. Prince came to America for further treatment.
Prince Augustine Nnatubeugo
Prince Augustine Nnatubeugo

Doctors who saw him at numerous centers around the country said there was little they could do for his eyesight. “I went to close to 20 different hospitals,” Prince says. “They said that if I had been brought here within 30 days of the shooting, they would have been able to do something for me.”

One doctor described the treatment he had received in Nigeria in blunt terms, telling Prince he had been treated by a technician rather than a medical doctor. The impact of such a realization could devastate some people. “But I had made up my mind that whatever the outcome was going to be, I was going to accept it,” Prince says. “From here, I was going to move forward.”

Eventually, he ended up in Cincinnati at UC. Professor of Surgery David Billmire operated on Prince three times in three years. The first surgery lasted almost 10 hours and removed another imminent threat to Prince’s health – a small blade and a piece of gauze deep within the tissue above the bridge of his nose that had been left from his initial treatment in Africa and were causing recurring infections. A surgery in 1989 removed bone from the back of his skull to be used in reconstructing the area above his eyes.

Prince also began classes at UC in the late 1980s.

Outside of school, he began an enterprise in international importing/exporting called Black Fox International. By the end of the decade, it had become so successful that Prince left school to devote full-time attention to his business. He opened a retail store in Cincinnati called First World Boutique, and by 1996, his efforts gained him the exclusive right to introduce the Andrew Jergens Co. skin care products to all of Africa.

Life still had more turns ahead for Prince, though.

He returned to school full-time at UC in 2007. As the 10th of 11 children, he was the only one of his siblings who did not yet have a college degree.
Prince Augustine Nnatubeugo and Emily Goodman
Outside of class, Prince Augustine Nnatubeugo and his friend, Emily Goodman.

“My main focus was to get a criminal justice degree to understand why human beings commit crime,” Prince says. He has learned through his studies, he says, that there is no single theory that might contain the answer he was looking for.

But he has also realized that the key to breaking the cycle of violence is to intervene with youth who are on the cusp of getting in trouble before they become sucked into more serious levels of crime. For that reason, Prince has been volunteering as a youth mentor for the last year at Cincinnati’s Talbert House.

Through his story, he hopes to instill that violence has consequences, but also the idea that you can go on and achieve whatever you want, no matter the obstacles. “My message to them is, “Nothing can stop you. Only you can stop yourself,” Prince says.

With his college degree just days away, Prince shows no signs of stopping. He is planning on continuing on to pursue his MBA from the UC College of Business in the fall. He will be getting married this fall to his fiancée, Alecia Daniel. He wants to continue working with young people, and he’s also going to spend more time with his entrepreneurial efforts.

Getting through college without sight hasn’t been the easiest quest. Prince has been aided by UC’s Disability Services office, but navigating a sprawling campus that has multiple elevation changes has often been a challenge.

Still, Prince says, he would recommend UC to any student. “I would recommend it 100 times over,” he says. “They ought to let me talk to any student who is considering coming here, and I will convince them. UC is a special place to me.”