Flags were raised at half-mast across the country in honor of former South African President Nelson Mandela’s passing on Dec. 5, 2013, after years of health problems. The loss of Mandela, 95, was heartbreaking not only for his own country, but also for the world.
Nelson Mandela was a truly extraordinary man who has received numerous awards. He received the joint Noble Peace Prize with F. W. de Klerk, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he was also awarded with the Order of Lenin.
Described as “the father of the nation,” Mandela was the first leader of South Africa after the abolition of apartheid, elected in South Africa’s first fully representative democratic election.
One Eastern Michigan University student had taken Mandela’s words to heart.
“‘I am the master of my fate and the captain of my destiny,’” Rachel Washburn, an electronic media and film studies major, said, quoting “Invictus,” the William Ernest Henry poem that inspired Mandela. “You make whatever you do. Your success is because of you and no one else.”
She had watched the film “Invictus,” which told the story of events in South Africa during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. She said that the film had encouraged her to be more of a team member at EMU.
For many of the teachers here at EMU, Mandela’s impact has been with them most of their lives. Patrick Pieh, a lecturer in EMU’s Africology department, said that Mandela brought diversity to South Africa, showing the world that we are human beings with different cultures that should not be suppressed.
At Mandela’s memorial service, leaders from around the world attended, bringing several nations under one roof despite their differences.
Joseph Engwenyu, an instructor of South Africa history, spoke of the impact Mandela had on him. Engwenyu lived through Mandela’s movement and was inspired by his words and actions. Mandela gave a speech on April 20, 1964, “I Am Prepared to Die.” The words of this speech opened Professor Engwenyu’s eyes to the world around him. Mandela’s ideals and convictions sparked Engwenyu’s drive to get involved with diversity movements.
Engwenyu said that, while we missed out on Mandela’s teachings, his death has reminded us to never forget the history. He recommends that our generation use his teachings as an example.
Mandela did his part and we still have an imperfect world. It is our turn to carry forward the message Mandela left and get involved when we see matters of peace and injustice occurring.
Professor Engwenyu plans on having an open forum for Nelson Mandela during Black History Month next semester.
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