Mem­bers of the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity com­mu­nity gath­ered in the Sacred Space on Thursday after­noon to com­mem­o­rate the life and legacy of Nelson Man­dela, the former South African pres­i­dent and anti-​​apartheid icon who died last week at the age of 95.

The hour­long cer­e­mony fea­tured a par­tial screening of a Man­dela biopic; a reading of a pair of his most inspiring pieces of writing; a singing of the South African national anthem; and poignant remarks by stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff.

Speakers remem­bered Man­dela as a moral and polit­ical genius, a fear­less freedom fighter, and a coura­geous peace­maker with an under­stated sense of humor. One by one, his ardent admirers stepped to an altar at which a candle gently flick­ered in his honor and deliv­ered effu­sive praise.

I hope the world remem­bers him as one of the greatest leaders it has ever had,” said Richard O’Bryant, director of the John D. O’Bryant African Amer­ican Insti­tute.

Shaya Gregory Poku, Program Manager for the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service, discusses the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Shaya Gre­gory Poku, pro­gram man­ager for the Center for Spir­i­tu­ality, Dia­logue, and Ser­vice, dis­cusses the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Like O’Bryant, most of the speakers shared their per­sonal con­nec­tions with the man they called Madiba. O’Bryant noted that his father helped lead the university’s effort to award Man­dela an hon­orary Doctor of Laws degree in absentia in May of 1988, while serving his 27-​​year jail sen­tence. Alexander Lev­ering Kern, the exec­u­tive director of the Center for Spir­i­tu­ality, Dia­logue, and Ser­vice, was arrested on Mother’s Day in 1986 for protesting Mandela’s impris­on­ment at the South African embassy in Wash­ington, D.C. In 1993, law pro­fessor Mar­garet Burnham was appointed by her mentor to an inter­na­tional human rights com­mis­sion to inves­ti­gate alleged human rights vio­la­tions within the African National Congress.

Part of his genius lay in the way he made mil­lions of people across the globe feel a per­sonal con­nec­tion to him,” Kern said. “This is why so many of us feel his loss so acutely.”

He had the gift of looking into the eyes of every person he met and expressing to them that they were as impor­tant as he was on this planet,” added Burnham, who later noted that Mandela’s lead­er­ship paved the way for the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and “pro­gres­sive leaders everywhere.”

Garika Chengu, a vis­iting scholar at the African Amer­ican Insti­tute, read a selec­tion from Mandela’s 1956 article “Freedom in Our Life­time,” in which he chal­lenged his fellow com­pa­triots to help “van­quish all oppo­si­tion and win the South Africa of our dreams.”

We have to realize that his strug­gles are by no means over,” Chengu said. “We have to make sure we finish what he has started.”

Fol­lowing the cer­e­mony, atten­dees were encour­aged to sign an over­size sym­pathy card that will be sent to Graca Machel, Mandela’s wife of 15 years. One mes­sage read, “Father Africa, the whole world will miss you. You fought for all people.” Another said, “We must con­tinue to live on in his legacy—striving for equality and social jus­tice. Long live Madiba. Rest in power.”

The event was co-​​sponsored by the Center for Spir­i­tu­ality, Dia­logue, and Ser­vice; the Social Jus­tice Resource Center; the John D. O’Bryant African Amer­ican Insti­tute; and the Depart­ment of African Amer­ican Studies.