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Photo of Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela. Photo from iStock

Walking in Mandela’s Footsteps

A new U of T student award promotes the ideals of Nelson Mandela

In his fight for social equality in apartheid-era South Africa, Nelson Mandela believed the most powerful way to change the world is through education – and the University of Toronto is celebrating that idea and the extraordinary life of the man himself with a new student award in his name.

The Nelson Mandela Award will be given annually to fourth-year students in any program who have demonstrated academic excellence, leadership and involvement in their communities, and particularly, a commitment to promoting the ideals of Nelson Mandela: peace, justice, citizenship and human rights.

“The values Mandela held, and what he accomplished, make him an inspirational figure. Through this award, we are encouraging students to develop in themselves the same kinds of qualities,” says Jill Matus, U of T’s vice-provost of students, who grew up in South Africa and who, as a university student there, participated in free-Mandela protests. The university has created a $250,000 fund, and each year will grant two awards of $5,000 each or four awards of $2,500 each to successful applicants.

The initiative was announced last December at an event held by the university to honour the remarkable achievements of the anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, lawyer and philanthropist, who died on Dec. 5 at age 95. Mandela’s commitment to promoting human rights and tackling institutionalized racism in South Africa endured throughout his 27-year incarceration after being convicted for planning to overthrow the state, and his perseverance eventually led him to become his country’s first black president.

The commemoration event, which was co-hosted by Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley (BA 1975) in partnership with South African community members, included tributes to Mandela by Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne (MA 1980); South African Consul-General Tselane Mokuena; U of T chancellor Michael Wilson (BCom 1959); and Desmond Tutu, who sent a video greeting recorded for the event. In his address, U of T President Meric Gertler said, “The Nelson Mandela Award is just one fitting tribute to an extraordinary individual whose legacy has changed so many lives and made the world a better place.”

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