Article by Myra Saturen; photos by Patricia Canavan
December 12, 2013
Love for Nelson Mandela, grief over his recent death, and the inspiration of his legacy were expressed at a memorial service for the anti-apartheid leader and South Africa's first black president held by students at Northampton Community College on December 12.
After an opening prayer, a welcome by Residence Hall Director Richard Alleyne and recordings of the South African and United States national anthems, Dean of Business and Technology Denise Francois-Seeny spoke about Madiba, which was Mandela's clan name. Calling him a citizen leader, she summoned to memory Mandela's 27 years of imprisonment. "His body was imprisoned, but his mind never could be," she said. Even after his release and election as president, Mandela negotiated with the people who had kept him in prison, she said. "Kindness was tempered with true steel in his spine."
Francois-Seeny recalled hearing Mandela speak in 2005 at Riverside Church in New York City, where he referenced the Book of Isaiah, "we have risen up on the wings of an eagle." Like an eagle, Francois-Seeny said, Mandela soared to great heights, flew above the storm, glided amid chaos, ascended, balanced himself, and guided others. "He epitomizes strength and power," she said.
NCC student Nordia Campbell read a poem by Maya Angelou memorializing Mandela.
Dr. Jeffrey Focht, addressing his comments mostly to the South African students in the audience, remembered visiting South Africa in 2009 as part of a study of education. He described a profound moment at Robben Island, where he saw Mandela's prison cell, a tiny, confining space with a small bed and desk. "I could see how he could have held resentment, pain, anguish, and a lack of forgiveness," Focht said. "Instead he took pain and turned it into something so powerful that we are recognizing him for his contributions to humanity." Focht contrasted Mandela's hometown, "the poorest place I have ever visited," with the luxurious hotel that hosted Focht and his colleagues. He comforted bereaved South African students by emphasizing that "Nelson Mandela was trying to tell people that what you do and how you influence change in your sphere of influence is important. By carrying on his legacy, we can make change. When your walk seems too difficult, think of Nelson Mandela and his prison cell."
Following a tribute video about Mandela, South African NCC student Katlane Seema explained that he meant more than history to her and her family. Her uncle had gone to prison in the struggle against apartheid, and she recalled her grandmother describing her anguish during this time. She said that even after apartheid ended, struggles remained. Education, she decided, was the way to spread her wings.
She lauded Mandela for his commitment to reconciliation. "He taught people how to love, forgive and work with the enemy. He taught that no human being is above another." She pointed out Mandela's courage and selflessness in enduring prison without knowing what the future would be.
"One is created, one is born, one lives and one dies, but we have a slight chance of leaving a legacy," she said. "What are you going to do that Mandela taught you?" she asked.
"Mandala taught that all people are connected," Seema said. "We need each other." She thanked the Northampton Community College community for being there for her as she mourns Mandela's death.
Students also created a slide show presentation displayed in the Student Life Zone, and NCC librarians have created a book display and a time line of Mandela's life in the Paul and Harriett Mack Library. Seema also spoke about Mandela in this moving YouTube video.
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