Today, the UC Berkeley campus mourns the loss and celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela. Today, we are all part of a global community united in grief and reverence for a man whose clarity of moral purpose and extraordinary perseverance brought freedom to the oppressed, hope to the hopeless and light to all the dark places where human dignity struggled to survive. Today, we pause to not only mourn, but also to reflect, with gratitude, on the good fortune we had to witness in our times all that Nelson Mandela accomplished and exemplified.
At Berkeley we also remember the special ties that will forever bind our campus to this man and his movement. As we know, the Bay Area was the epicenter of the American anti-apartheid activity due, in no small measure, to the passionate engagement of Berkeley students. In 1990, on a worldwide tour after serving 27 years in prison, Mandela spoke to a crowd of 60,000 at the Oakland Coliseum. During that speech South Africa’s future president specifically cited our university’s “Campaign Against Apartheid” as having been particularly significant in hastening the end of white-minority rule in his country. That recognition highlights what is, in my opinion, one of Berkeley’s proudest moments.
Today, I am also thinking about something Nelson Mandela said that goes to the heart of who we are and what we stand for as a university: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” With that in mind, I have asked our academic leadership to begin working on a spring event that will celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life and extend his legacy through an exploration of, and discussions about his historic accomplishments.
Words alone cannot pay adequate homage to an extraordinary life that so deeply altered the course of history. We can truly honor Nelson Mandela only through our ongoing individual and collective efforts to ensure that every man, woman and child reaches the final destination on humanity’s long walk to freedom.
Sincerely, Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor, UC Berkeley