Message regarding 2012 Commencement
April 19, 2012
To Our Graduating Seniors, Gonzaga Students, and University Colleagues:
A major social justice issue during the 1980's and 1990's involved the ending of racist policies instituted by the minority government of South Africa in the years following World War II. "Apartheid," a legislated system of racial segregation, denied literally millions of black South Africans their civil rights, including the right to vote and receive equal access to social services. Millions of South Africans were stripped of their citizenship and forced by a series of resettlement acts to move into government-identified "homelands" — areas defined largely by race and/or ethnicity. Those resisting government-imposed apartheid policies were subjected to police brutality, imprisoned, and many — including many college students — were killed.
It was out of this violent social context that the voices of religious leaders, such as South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Catholic Archbishop Denis Hurley cried out to the world: "Will you help us?" While many heard but remained silent, some did lift their voices in support of the marginalized and suffering peoples of South Africa. In the midst of this horrific era, the Norwegian Nobel Committee in 1984 elected to award the Peace Prize to (then-Bishop) Tutu "as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa." During that period, and in the long and distinguished tradition of our University, Gonzaga faculty, staff and trustees, together with a generation of students, worked to bring awareness of apartheid — and a moral imperative to do something about it — to the forefront of this community.
Some 25 years later, we are privileged to have the rare opportunity to recognize a unique convergence of past, present and future at our upcoming Commencement ceremonies. Not only is this an opportunity to honor the determination and persistence of Desmond Tutu — arguably one of the most recognizable representatives of non-violent human rights activism on the planet — but it too is a chance to honor all those who speak out for justice when others remain silent. Ultimately, and most importantly, it is an opportunity to honor our graduates, who we recognize at the moment they transition from students firmly committed to the service of faith and the promotion of justice, to alumni who will go forth to serve others and provide leadership to our world. It is in recognition of this University's past involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, and the dedication of our current students to the welfare of others, that Archbishop Emeritus Tutu has accepted our invitation.
Desmond Tutu was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize not just for the essential work he did in the service of peace and justice but specifically "as a gesture of support ... to all individuals and groups ... who, with their concern for human dignity, fraternity and democracy, incite the admiration of the world."
On the occasion of the University's 125th Anniversary, in which we have a unique opportunity to connect with the noblest moments of our past, we are privileged to honor a Christian leader and social rights activist whose faith-based lifelong dedication to the cause of justice so clearly resonates with our efforts as a university. Desmond Tutu's life has been dedicated to advancing the cause of peace through reconciliation, and justice through Jesus' own instruction: " ... love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (John 13:34). His determination and courage during a period of hate and injustice had a transformational impact on a nation, on humanity and on our university community — and it is this that we will together celebrate as we welcome Archbishop Emeritus Tutu to Gonzaga University on Commencement Weekend.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.