Not many people have seen the kinds of things Archbishop Desmond Tutu has seen. The Nobel Peace Prize winner fought hard to end apartheid in South Africa and now commits himself to healing his native country.
His speech at Commencement Sunday chronicled his struggle for freedom and reminded people that everyone must be treated equally. Equating the struggle of blacks in South Africa to gays and lesbians throughout the world today was a risk for a religious leader, but he said it anyway.
He proved his civil rights work came from a deep belief that all people, no matter who they are, should be free. He lived up to his billing as a world leader, a humanitarian and one of the greatest proponents of peace in our time.
It’s disappointing that more people were not excited about Tutu’s arrival on campus and his speech here. His address Friday night at a fundraising event at Lisner Auditorium gave anyone who was interested the chance to meet him and learn about his mission while helping an important charity that gives South African children a chance to go to college. But few people took that opportunity.
Tutu may not be a celebrity or a famous domestic politician. His name may not resonate with as many graduates as past Commencement speakers Bill Cosby or Bob Dole did. But what Tutu brought to the Ellipse was a strong message, something graduates could take with them and reflect on for the rest of their lives. That is what a Commencement address is supposed to be about.
When the Dalai Lama arrived on campus earlier this year, the auditorium was filled to capacity. Everyone wanted to show his or her support for Tibetan freedom, which has recently gained a place in the international spotlight. But what Desmond Tutu did for South Africa is just as significant, and it is a shame that more people did not make the most of this extraordinary man’s visit to GW.