Penn State students held a candlelight vigil for Nelson Mandela on the steps of Old Main Monday night.
Mandela, the renowned former president of South Africa and anti-apartheid revolutionary, died Thursday at the age of 95.
The vigil was organized by the NAACP chapter at Penn State, the African Student Association and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.
Dwayne Wright, a member of Phi Beta Sigma Sigma, began the vigil with a short speech.
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“There are many ways to say thank you but what does the concept really mean?” he asked. “Flags in a country far away from where he lived sit at (half-staff) for Nelson Mandela. For a man as unique and special as him, we say thank you by taking his lessons and learning from him.”
Precious Anizoba, a member of the African Student Association, spoke next, pointing to the worldwide response as evidence of Mandela’s impact.
“Nelson Mandela’s funeral will be the largest gathering of world leaders in African history,” she said. “Over 90 heads of state, including our president, are in transit to pay their respects. The world knows the impact he had.”
Anizoba found personal inspiration in the life of Mandela.
“Here was a man who simply set his goals then went out and accomplished them,” she said. “He had a passion for his work. We risk mediocrity if we do not find and pursue our passions.”
Jamie Campbell, the assistant dean for diversity enhancement for the Smeal College of Business, wanted the crowd to channel Mandela’s experiences into their daily lives.
“Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, but he was always free because he never sacrificed his beliefs,” he said. “I want you to love someone during the next 27 days. Follow Nelson’s example and put someone else above you.”
Campbell thinks that the vigil is a start but urged the crowd to go further.
“It’s cold,” he said. “You could have been anywhere else tonight. But you’re here. You took the time to honor a man who changed the world. What will you do from now on to honor Nelson Mandela’s legacy?”
Campbell touched on Mandela’s use of rugby, a sport that represented apartheid for many people, to bring South Africa together.
“Nelson understood that people needed to come together most when they wanted to run away from each other,” he said.
Alice Gyamfi, also a member of the African Student Association, read a passionate spoken word piece she first wrote after she heard an inaccurate claim of Mandela’s death in 2011.
“We fight against the haters; he fought to be a citizen. We fight for nothing. Let the living hear the actions of a revolutionary,” she read.
Timothy Romaine, also a member of Phi Beta Sigma, became emotional while singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in Mandela’s honor. He then asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence.
“I’m happy our generation got the chance to live along with somebody like Nelson Mandela,” he later said.
Campbell wanted the crowd to take one of Mandela’s lessons to heart.
“Nelson Mandela understood that you had to love your enemy like your friend,” he said. “Make a change that will help everyone in your path, and bring the people you don’t like with as you succeed. Take them with you and change them.”
As the event closed, members of the crowd were invited to place their candles in rows of two lining the steps of Old Main.
Anizoba finished the event calling out to Mandela.
“Nelson Mandela, Penn State salutes you,” she said. “We will live through your legacy.”