Desmond Tutu to Speak at Commencement

Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and renowned South African anti-apartheid campaigner, will deliver UNC’s 2009 Commencement address.

Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 will preside at the ceremony that is set for May 10 at 9:30 a.m. in Kenan Stadium.

“Archbishop Tutu is one of the world’s greatest humanitarians,” Thorp said. “Our world desperately needs the compassion and understanding that he exemplifies. I can’t imagine a finer, more qualified person to inspire our graduates and their families. Having him speak at Carolina’s Commencement will be a slam dunk for our graduates.”

Thorp chose Tutu in consultation with the University’s Commencement Speaker Selection Committee, which is made up of an equal number of students and faculty.

Alongside Nelson Mandela, Tutu is widely credited as being the most central figure in the fight to end apartheid in South Africa. A rigorous advocate of nonviolence, Tutu rose to worldwide prominence in the 1980s, leading both popular protests within South Africa and helping champion international efforts to pressure the then-government to drop its system of racial segregation.

He also served as the first black Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and chaired the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the nation began its process of rebuilding following the end of apartheid.

Tutu continues to work globally to advocate for democracy, freedom and human rights, as well as campaigns to fight AIDS, poverty and racism. He has served on several U.N. panels and is chair of the Elders, a group of world leaders that counts former U.S. President Carter, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi among its founding members.

In awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, the Nobel Committee cited Tutu’s “role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa.” Among his other honors, Tutu has been named a grand officer of the Légion d’honneur by France, was awarded the Order of Merit Grand Cross by Germany and is a recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize. He also has received numerous honorary doctorates and fellowships and been visiting professor at several universities.


  • Listen to audio of past Commencement speakers.

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