In front of a flag that flew at half-mast outside of Marsh Chapel, members of the Boston University community gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela at a candlelight vigil Monday.
As the grievers held their candles, Rev. Brittany Longsdorf spoke to the crowd of about 50 people and said the best way for someone to commemorate Mandela is by acting with his same sense of tolerance, kindness and compassion.
“We might choose to remember him daily in our lives by acting in the way he did of compassion, the way he fought for justice and the way he shared his life for equality,” Longsdorf said. “In this moment, let’s choose to do that forever more, as we enter into a sacred time and space to remember Nelson Mandela.”
Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95.
Student Government President Dexter McCoy spoke as well, commemorating Mandela for his international achievements as an instrumental South African leader who made a difference in the lives of millions affected by apartheid. He said Mandela taught the world to love one another rather than to hate.
“He [Mandela] didn’t expel his adversaries from his administration — he embraced them, and we must do the same,” McCoy, a College of Communication senior, said. “I am so glad that is what we are choosing to do here — we are choosing to come together in love, and that is what we do in this community here in Boston University.”
McCoy quoted Mandela when he said, “What counts in life is not that we have lived, it is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
After a moment of silence, the crowd lit their candles as Zoliswa Mali, a professor of African Studies, led the group in singing the South African national anthem in honor of the leader who helped defeat apartheid.
Mali said the virtues of Mandela’s forgiving and peaceful spirit reconciled her native country of South Africa. She said the BU community, and the country as a whole, has a lot to take away from Mandela’s tolerance, love and reconciliation.
“Mandela, even though he suffered as he did for all of us, he still came out strong and forgiving and loving and kind,” Mali said. “He was a unifier, and if BU students have that embracing spirit, where they embrace diversity and show love and kindness, that will be a great thing to take from Mandela.”
During the vigil, Mensimah Bentsi-Enchill, president of the African Students Organization, said Nelson Mandela will go in the history books in this century and the next as one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time. She said she hopes people around the world become educated about his legacy to become united, to move forward and to accept differences between people.
“It was expected, but nonetheless it was a somber experience for us, and that is why we decided to have the vigil,” Bentsi-Enchill, a Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences senior, said.
Isabella Romano, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, became emotional while she reminisced on the personal impact Mandela left on her. While in South Africa two summers ago, Romano said she experienced the entire country sing happy birthday to Mandela on his 94th birthday.
“While I was there [South Africa], I could just see all the magnificent things that Nelson Mandela accomplished,” Romano said. “… People speak of him as if they were talking about a deity. I’ve just never seen a country love a man so much.”