July 6, 1995: Nelson Mandela Receives Honorary Doctorate From Seoul National University

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Nelson Mandela Father's Day 2012As revolutionary hero and former South African president Nelson Mandela continues to lie in critical, yet stable condition, NewsOne takes a look back his inspirational speech upon receiving an honorary doctorate in Philosophy from Seoul National University.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is barely three hours since we landed in the Republic of Korea, and already, we can feel the ground swell of goodwill among Koreans for our country. Distant as our delegation may be from home, we feel really at home in your country.

The moving ceremony at the National Cemetery has appropriately reminded me of what the past should not have been. Now here, among the doyen of South Korea’s intellectuals, we are reminded of what the future holds out for all of us and coming generations.

I thank you most profoundly – the Council, the staff and the students of your distinguished institution, for this honor bestowed on me and the people of our country.

Seoul National University stands out within this country and further afield as a center of academic excellence. Indeed, your day-to-day activities capture succinctly the motto inscribed in your constitution; and this is to “cultivate human resources that are needed in society, to promote academic research; to enable students to achieve self-realization and to contribute to national development and human prosperity.”

If this your motto was meant to describe the modest activities in this institution, it finds resonance in our hearts because the ideals you cherish are the goal-posts of all who are thirsty for knowledge throughout the world. Mr. President; The honor you bestow on me, naturally brings gushing back the memories of my own youth from a humble village, in search of a meaningful education.

The vagaries of our circumstances then, meant that we had to trudge valleys and cross rivers to attain the mountain-tops of our academic desires.

Yet if we were to live true to your motto to contribute to national development and human prosperity, we had to challenge the system that made education a privilege for the majority and a right for the minority.

Thus, to our generation, education became a key to unlock the gates of oppression, a tool against the warped logic of the slave-master. Institutions of learning became center to challenge colonial domination and injustice, for this, the thorny gown and cap of achievement were detention, death, exile and long terms of imprisonment.

For many years, such was the experience of the Seoul National University and its legend of intellectuals and students. And it is precisely this common pilgrimage through the blast furnace of struggle, which lends poignancy to this august occasion.

But today, in both South Korea and South Africa, the motto of Seoul National University assumes a different meaning in a different setting. Our countries are free from colonial domination and repression.

Our encounter today is therefore a celebration of creation and development rather than protest and conflict. It is an injunction to the youth to apply themselves to their studies, confident that their knowledge will stand them and their country in good stead.

This is the spirit driving the youth of South Africa today, now that the doors of learning have been opened. Our Government has started to phase in free and compulsory education; to assist university students who cannot afford the high fees; to develop especially the technical colleges which are crucial for the training of skilled workers.

Mr. President;

We concur with Seoul National University that higher institutions of learning such as this one are not merely production houses of uncaring and one-dimensional graduates. We are at one with you that they are not ivory towers of self-fulfilling excellence. Rather they are, and should be, the fertile soil out of which the seed of democracy and human rights can sprout and flourish.

In our own country, with the democratization process, universities have been freed to play a central role not only with regard to socio-economic matters, but also in deepening the culture of openness, democracy and justice. They are playing an important role in the debates around the new constitution that is being formulated; around foreign policy matters; the judiciary; and so on.

This honorary doctorate will not only help to cement the bonds of friendship between our peoples; but also help give concrete expression to the co-operation that South Korea and South Africa are establishing in scientific, cultural and other fields.

Again, Mr. President, I wish to thank you for this honor; an honor to the people of our country, which I accept on their behalf with all humanity.

May Seoul National University grow from strength to strength; may it serve as a tower of knowledge, may it always be a prime example of excellence, and a fountain head of theory and practice.

I thank you.

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