8th Mandela Day Marked with Reflection On 1998 Harvard University Commencement

18 July — the day Nelson Mandela was born —marks Nelson Mandela International Day. On this day, the UN asks individuals around the world to mark the day by making a difference in their communities. As you reflect, take a look back at a 1998 Harvard Crimson article anticipating a special Harvard University commencement honoring Nelson Mandela's contribution to causes of peace and freedom: 

Nelson Mandela To Receive Rare Harvard Honor


South African president will accept degree

Fifty-five years after 6,000 Harvard students watched British Prime Minister Winston Churchill receive an honorary degree in a special ceremony in Sanders Theatre, more than 10,000 Harvard students will watch as Nelson Mandela is awarded the same honor in Tercentenary Theatre Sept. 18.

The 80-year-old South African president and co-recipient of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize will be the third person in the University's history to receive an honorary degree outside of Commencement or a celebration of a University anniversary.

"We've given hundreds of honorary degrees, but this is a rare event," said University spokesperson Alex Huppe.

Harvard first awarded such an honorary degree April 3, 1776 to George Washington, who was then general of the American forces in the Revolutionary War.

The Board of Overseers had previously invited Mandela to deliver the Commencement Day address and receive an honorary degree each year since he became president of South Africa in 1994, but he was never able to attend.

"When we learned he was coming to America for what will probably be his last time as president, we hoped he would be able to come," said University

Mandela will be joined at the 4:30 p.m.ceremony by directors of the recently formedHarvard Center of International Development(HCID)--a joint venture of the Kennedy School ofGovernment (KSG) and the Harvard Institute forInternational Development (HIID)--which alsoworked to bring him to Cambridge.

Jeffrey D. Sachs '76, director of both HIID andHCID, said Mandela's appearance at Harvard willgive him and his colleagues the opportunity tolaunch HCID's work on African economicdevelopment.

Both Sachs, who is also the Stone Professor ofInternational Trade at the KSG, and KwesiBotchwey, the director of the program on AfricanDevelopment at the HCID, will speak at the event.

"We are extremely grateful that PresidentMandela accepted the invitation from Harvard,"Sachs wrote in an e-mail message.

"The program will center on the celebration ofthe honorary degree that Harvard will bestow onPresident Mandela, but Dr. Botchwey and I willalso each speak at the celebration, to explain thepurposes of the new center and the Africanresearch and advisory program," he added.

Mandela, a long-time leader of the AfricanNational Congress, spent 27 years in prison forhis anti-apartheid activities. In 1994, he waselected president of South Africa.

"President Mandela is one of the heroic figuresof our time," said President Neil L. Rudenstine ina statement.

"He embodies not only the example of courageand determination under the harshest conceivablecircumstances, but--something even more rare--thevery spirit of reconciliation in his own nationand throughout the world," Rudenstine continued.

Mandela will likely travel to Cambridge fromNew York and then depart for Canada, according toa spokesperson with the Department of ForeignAffairs in South Africa.

The details of Mandela's state visit have notbeen finalized and a visit to the White House hasnot been scheduled, the spokesperson said.

Mandela will be accompanied by his wife, GracaMachel, the former first lady of Mozambique, whomhe wed in July, shortly after his 80th birthdaycelebration.

Mandela last visited the United States in 1994and last came to Boston in 1990, less than a yearafter his release from prison.

The ceremony will be open to all members of theHarvard community. It will feature performances bythe Kuumba singers, the University choir andworld-famous soprano Jesse Norman.

Seniors will receive a special invitation tothe event and will sit in a reserved section