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University of Massachusetts Honors Nelson Mandela With Honorary Degree

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - The University of Massachusetts today presented honorary degrees to former President Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, in a degree ceremony held at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The honorary doctor of humane letters degrees were presented by President Jack M. Wilson, who said: "The University of Massachusetts is proud to honor two people who have made immense contributions to Africa and to all of mankind."

President Wilson, who is visiting South Africa with a UMass academic delegation, was welcomed to the country by Nelson Mandela, who said he appreciated the University's long-standing commitment to the people of South Africa and their struggle for democracy.

Mr. Mandela referred to the contribution made by UMass toward addressing South Africa's social challenges, especially in the fields of HIV/AIDS, youth education and technology. He also thanked the university for undertaking important historical work about the freedom struggle.

Mr. Mandela also said he was pleased to receive the honorary degree. "It is a great honor, and my wife and I feel very privileged. Thank you," he said.

As one of the first public universities in America to disinvest from companies doing business with South Africa's apartheid regime, UMass has produced many South African graduates holding exceptional academic and business positions, including Mr. Mandela's own daughter Makaziwe.

Presenting the honorary degrees, President Wilson said: "Nelson Mandela is a hero to all people who value freedom and dignity and justice. President Mandela's principled opposition to tyranny and injustice inspires us today and will inspire our sons and daughters for generations to come. Nelson Mandela is truly a beacon of hope for our time and for all time."

The degrees awarded to President Mandela and Graca Machel were the first system-wide degrees ever presented by the University of Massachusetts. All other past degrees were issued by a single campus - Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell or the Medical School in Worcester.

President Wilson said the decision to grant five-campus UMass system degrees reflected "the esteem in which these two great leaders are held."

Graca Machel served as the first education minister after Mozambique obtained its independence, led a United Nations study of the effects of war on children, and is the chancellor of the University of Cape Town. She was previously married to Samora Machel, Mozambique's first president. President Machel died in 1986 in an airplane crash in South Africa.

"We honor Graca Machel's lifetime commitment to education, her advocacy for the poor and the disadvantaged and her passion for justice and liberty," President Wilson said.

Ms. Machel said that she and her husband were pleased by the decision to offer the first-ever UMass system degrees. "We will honor it, and we will never take it for granted," she said of the decision.

President Wilson presided over the degree ceremony with James J. Karam, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees, and also taking part were two other university trustees, Ruben King-Shaw and Stacey Rainey, and UMass Senior Vice President Marcellette G. Williams.

Speaking of both honorees, Chairman Karam said: "Your commitment to human rights and to the principles of freedom and justice, and your lifelong advocacy of education, will be forever etched in the annals of history and inspires the work that we do at our university - the people's university of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Nelson Mandela became one of the world's most respected and admired figures as he led the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Mr. Mandela served nearly three decades in prison for his anti-apartheid activities. His release in 1990 signaled the end of white-supremacy rule.

Mr. Mandela was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was elected president in South Africa's first free elections in 1994. Mr. Mandela served as president until 1999.

Makaziwe Mandela is a graduate of UMass-Amherst, from which she earned a master's in sociology in 1989 and a doctorate in anthropology four years later.

The honorary degrees were awarded as President Wilson and Chairman Karam led a UMass delegation on a visit to South Africa. President Wilson is signing research agreements with the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and the University of KwaZulu-Natal during the visit.

Contact: Robert P. Connolly, 011-27-82-858-2412 (in South Africa)

William H. Wright, 617.287.7065


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