A Celebration of the Remarkable Life of Nelson Mandela

December 13, 2013

Convocation Hall

Note: Photos from the event and a webcast are available here: http://www.president.utoronto.ca/events/a-celebration-of-the-remarkable-life-of-nelson-mandela-1918-2013

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First let me say that I am privileged to follow on the agenda this afternoon my co-host The Honourable David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and our Premier The Honourable Kathleen Wynne. It is also an honour to note that they are both University of Toronto graduates.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests and friends, on behalf of the entire University of Toronto community let me welcome you to Convocation Hall on this historic occasion.

Nelson Mandela is a towering figure in the history of the world. As our first speakers have made clear so eloquently, Mr. Mandela epitomized courage, integrity, and wisdom. His unflinching dedication to human rights for all people – in the face of unimaginable personal suffering and injustice – remains a singular inspiration. His example is a source of hope and optimism in a world in which these qualities are ever more important but often seem to be in ever shorter supply.

Here in the setting of this great university, it is worth remembering that Nelson Mandela was also a remarkable student. This comes as no surprise in an individual who contended that “education is the most powerful weapon” with which you can change the world.

Mr. Mandela had an incisive intellect and a profound capacity for judgement that combined diplomacy with unyielding principle. And certainly, he changed the world. This doesn’t mean that he never made mistakes, as he himself frequently noted. But his way of responding was striking. Whether it was his defense of open markets and free democratic institutions in the early 90s, or his courageous stand on HIV/AIDS in 2000… these were triumphs of personal and intellectual honesty and integrity.

To listen, to learn, to lead, to follow your principles wherever they may take you, and in the process to teach… these are characteristics Nelson Mandela personified. They are also the highest ideals of advanced education, and the indispensable foundations of a free and prosperous society. For those of us in the university community – and indeed for all people around the world – Mr. Mandela reminds us of the irrepressible power of truth.

I believe I speak for the entire University of Toronto when I express heartfelt sadness at Nelson Mandela’s death.

And yet, as we celebrate his extraordinary life, it is natural and fitting to smile at the memory of his unparalleled generosity of spirit and the all-important lessons he teaches us still.

On that note, it is my great privilege to announce that the University of Toronto is establishing the Nelson Mandela Scholarship. The Scholarship celebrates Nelson Mandela’s remarkable life. It will be awarded to fourth-year students on the basis of academic excellence, leadership, and community involvement.

To this end, the University has endowed $250,000 providing for two annual awards in perpetuity. To help the number of awards grow, there is an opportunity for anyone here today to contribute to the Scholarship with pledge cards available in the rotunda. Nelson Mandela Scholars must demonstrate, through their studies and community involvement, a commitment to promoting peace, justice, citizenship and human rights.

This is just one fitting tribute to an extraordinary individual whose legacy has changed so many lives and made the world a better place.

Thank you.