Convocation Citations

April 29, 2004, Vol. 30, no.1
By Michael Stevenson

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President Michael Stevenson presented honorary degrees to the Dalai Lama, Professor Shirin Ebadi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu citing their contribuitons to peace and reconciliation.

Dalai Lama

Mr. Chancellor, it is my privilege to present His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso. Few in our time have been confronted with such daunting challenges. Fewer still have faced them with such courage, wisdom and humility.

In 1959, following the suppression of the Tibetan national uprising, His Holiness sought political asylum in India. The exigencies of exile were great and immediate. Recognizing the urgent need to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people, he promoted economic development and the creation of an educational system for Tibetans-in-exile. As the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, he also undertook the difficult task of seeking liberation for his country.

From the very beginning of those early years of turmoil and sacrifice, he has steadfastly opposed the use of violence in his search for justice and truth for his people. A man of boundless respect for all living things, His Holiness advocates peaceful solutions grounded in dialogue and mutual respect as the path to harmony and understanding.

These many years he has travelled the globe, inspiring us to examine our lives and purify our hearts according to the teachings of our own religions. He counsels that all great faiths emphasize love, tolerance and humility and help transform individuals to become good human beings. His Holiness' words have moved millions, their wisdom and compassion uplifting all who see and hear him. Indeed, his presence in the world illuminates our global community and makes it seem more humane.

His Holiness has often said that he finds inspiration in the following words:

“For as long as space endures,
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I, too, abide
To dispel the misery of the world.”

We are, indeed, blessed to have amongst us a man of such conviction, compassion, and integrity. In his search for justice, he has ennobled all of us.

Mr. Chancellor, in 1989 His Holiness received the Nobel Peace prize in recognition of his selfless quest, an honour he graciously accepted on behalf of oppressed peoples everywhere. Today, in recognition of his great and good work, I ask on behalf of the senate of this university, that you confer upon His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso the degree doctor of laws, honoris causa.

Shirin Ebadi

Mr. Chancellor, Shirin Ebadi has been a voice of conscience in Iran for more than 25 years. She has consistently questioned dogma and challenged authority in her struggle to win basic human rights for women, children, refugees and victims of government oppression. To many, she is an heroic figure who embodies an Islam in which every individual can live in peace and equality.

Her own words reveal the severity of her struggle: “Any person who pursues human rights in Iran must live with fear from birth to death, but I have learned to overcome my fear.”

Indeed, Shirin Ebadi's life is distinguished by a brave refusal to be silenced. From the very beginning of her career, she has engaged herself with a fierce will in public debate. As a lawyer, activist, writer, and lecturer, she represents a reformed Islam and advocates a new interpretation of Islamic law, one that is in harmony with democracy, equality before the law, and freedom of speech and religion.

Her writing sheds light on the injustices of Iranian domestic law, and discloses alleged human rights violations by Iranian authorities. She is the driving force behind Iran's reform of family laws, advocating significant changes in divorce and inheritance legislation. She has taken on sensitive legal cases others dared not touch, fearlessly defending intellectuals and women's rights activists at great personal risk. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, Shirin Ebadi created a truly independent human rights organization in Iran: the society for the protection of the rights of the child. And recently, she was a founding member of the centre for the defence of human rights.

For many years, despite detention, suspension from legal practice, and threats to her safety, she has remained true to her vision of an Islam in which all are equal. For her singularly courageous efforts, she was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2003.
Mr. Chancellor, in her struggle for justice and equality, Shirin Ebadi has never faltered. Deeply imbued with the belief that change must come about peacefully, she is a fearless champion of human rights, and has left an indelible mark on the conscience not only of Iranians but of people everywhere. It is my privilege to ask on behalf of the senate of this university that you confer upon Shirin Ebadi the degree doctor of laws, honoris causa.

Desmond Tutu

Mr. Chancellor, Desmond Tutu is one of those rare individuals whose incandescent faith and whose deep humanity have made this world a far better place. In his commitment to justice and truth, to reason and compassion, he has touched the lives not only of the citizens of South Africa, but also of millions around the world.

Desmond Tutu once said, “We can become human only in fellowship, in community and in peace.” From the very beginning of his calling to the Anglican clergy, he has never wavered in his conviction that all people can live in fellowship and harmony, never faltered in his theological commitment to the reconciliation of divided humanity, nor ever compromised his political commitment to the reconciliation of peoples in conflict.

As the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, he proved to be an indomitable foe against apartheid, repeatedly risking imprisonment in his courageous crusade for justice and racial conciliation in South Africa. Under his spiritual leadership, the council gave voice to the ideals and aspirations of millions of Christians and provided assistance to the victims of apartheid. At home, Desmond Tutu bravely condemned the use of violence by opponents of apartheid. Abroad, he advocated economic sanctions against his country.

Throughout those many difficult and dangerous years, Desmond Tutu implored all South Africans to seek peaceful solutions between the black and white communities of their homeland, which had been so deeply wounded by a long history of prejudice and injustice. For his enduring efforts, he received the Nobel Peace prize in 1984.

Subsequently, as the first black bishop of Johannesburg, he redoubled his efforts to bridge the chasm between communities divided by official racism in South Africa. In 1986, he was elected Archbishop of Cape Town. In this capacity, he continued his vigorous campaign to bring about the end of apartheid, denouncing at every opportunity the government's failure to make significant changes, and playing a leading role in the nationwide campaign of defiance that led a few short years later to the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa.

Although he might well have celebrated this triumphant end to the struggle against apartheid by taking up a long planned and well deserved retirement, Archbishop Tutu accepted President Mandela's request in 1994 that he lead South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In that capacity he has written a unique new chapter in the development of restorative justice.

Mr. Chancellor, Desmond Tutu has in a long life of service been a force for good in one of the most bitter struggles of our times. He is an icon of hope whose influence extends far beyond the borders of South Africa. Today, it is my honour to ask on behalf of the senate of this university that you confer upon him the degree doctor of laws, honoris causa.

View the archived web cast of the special convocation ceremony at:

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