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Nelson Mandela, A Moral Educator

By Jonathan Lash
President, Hampshire College

Today, as the world mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, his legacy of combining resistance and strength in the face of oppression with courageous insistence on reconciliation inspires us. Nelson Mandela turned a history of pain and injustice into a remarkable lesson in the power of love. After what he had endured, many would have chosen retribution and continued divisiveness. Instead, he chose to work to build a future with those who had imprisoned him.

One of my joys as a college president is to witness students’ potential and power to work for change in a world sorely in need of moral leadership. It is within that specific context that I most admire Mandela. With all that he accomplished and all that his life has meant, he succeeded, and made an enduring global contribution, as a moral educator. He changed the perception of the world about its responsibility toward apartheid. He demonstrated the power of inclusion.

Nelson Mandela holds a special place in the collective memory at Hampshire College. In 1977 Hampshire divested from companies doing business in South Africa. Hampshire was the first college or university in the United States to do so, launching what became a national movement. Students were of course leaders in that effort on campus.

Adele Simmons, president of Hampshire at the time, remembers meeting with Mandela: “He was emphatic about the importance of divestment to the larger effort to end apartheid,” she says. “Hampshire should be proud of its role.”

We are. And we are grateful for the life and lessons of Nelson Mandela, for in the struggles he waged, the sacrifices he endured, and the eventual triumphs he led in and for South Africa, he ennobled all of humanity. He leaves behind, for all of us, in our differing environments and contexts, the challenge to continue the important work of inclusion and reconciliation.

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