Nelson Mandela: A Living Legend Is Honored in Louisiana by Two Universities

By Miller, Robert G. | Diversity Employers, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Nelson Mandela: A Living Legend Is Honored in Louisiana by Two Universities


Miller, Robert G., Diversity Employers


Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the word awesome as expressive of awe, terrific and extraordinary. But, in layman's language, awesome can best be described by two words: Nelson Mandela.

Arguably one of the most recognizable men on the planet, the President Emeritus of the Republic of South Africa had a three-fold purpose in capping a two-day visit to Baton Rouge, Louisiana on May 12 as the commencement speaker for Southern University's Class of 2000. The day before, Mandela had a double treat when Southern named its School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs after him in a morning ceremony. Later that evening, he received honorary doctoral degrees from Southern and Louisiana State University at a fund-raising banquet at the Radisson Hotel in his honor with proceeds earmarked for the Nelson Mandela Foundation Children's Fund. This marked the first time two universities have awarded honorary doctoral degrees simultaneously.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the man who battled South African apartheid and after a long imprisonment eventually became that nation's president, had an answer for those asking how important it was to have a building named after him on Southern's campus. He said "the fact that I'm here at this naming ceremony is one of the most upstanding testimonies of what this university means to the developing world." As Mandela spoke to over 1,000 spectators at this event, he was obviously very happy. During a performance by a group of Nigerian dancers, the now 82-year-old statesman popped up from his seat and began to dance. Cheers sprang from the crowd as he later remarked "the Nigerian dancers reminded me of some of the happiest moments of my life."

Last year, when Southern faculty members first discussed a building name, someone mentioned the name of Winston Churchill, but that didn't elicit much reaction. However, when Mandela's name was suggested, everyone jumped on board. Leon Tarver, president of the Southern University System, immediately embraced the idea and shepherded the name change through the approval process because his faculty associated Mandela's name with "courage, endurance, guts, stubborn determination to survive overwhelming odds, fairness and, above all, forgiveness." As Southern University strengthens its bond with Mandela, it's also strengthening its ties to his native South Africa. Southern, one of the nation's largest predominantly Black universities, recently entered into a memorandum of understanding with Vista University in Pretoria, South Africa. The three-year agreement, financed with more than $500,000 provided by the U.S. Agency for International Develop-ment, will send faculty from the Nelson Mandela School of Public Poli cy and Urban Affairs to teach in Pretoria. Southern faculty also will go to South Africa to show educators at Vista University techniques for collecting data, analyzing a problem and then proposing a solution to the country's elected leaders. The agreement will also benefit Vista University students and faculty by offering exchanges and scholarships to Southern.

As many as 1,300 participants attended the $150 per person fundraising banquet for Nelson Mandela. They enthusiastically supported him, in not only receiving his two honorary doctoral degrees from Southern and LSU, but in graciously accepting lavish praise from public and private officials on hand. LSU System President William Jenkins, also a native South African, credited Mandela with fighting both white and Black domination. "You walked free and with you a nation began to walk toward freedom, "Jenkins said. lie referred to the 27 years that Mandela spent in prison at the hands of South Africa's former white supremacist government.

Southern University System President Leon Tarver remarked "Mandela showed an incredible sense of community in accepting the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of all his countrymen who suffered under apartheid." Mandela indicated upon his release from prison ten years ago, he initially didn't want to talk to the white politicians who had kept him behind bars. …

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