Mandela has left a legacy that loomed large during his lifetime and one which will continue to grow and spread with each passing year. We think of his stand against apartheid, his personal sacrifice to live by his principles and his eventual vindication and victory. But Nelson Mandela did not take a win/lose approach, he believed in reconciliation and forgiveness and he recognized that life is a never-ending journey with all of its hills and valleys, a "long walk" that constantly moves forward.
As educators, we can learn many lessons from the ideas and beliefs that he shared with all of us during his lifetime. They can inform and improve our practice and help us to both better understand and inspire our students. Here are five of his thoughts that are worth sharing and embracing:
On perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges:
Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.
On continuously striving to do more, to be better, and to never rest on your laurels:
After climbing one great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
On the importance of supporting and nurturing our students and of finding ways to help them to learn and grow. And our obligation as a society to ensure that we give them all the opportunities for success that they deserve:
There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.
On the need to value ourselves as a key step in valuing others:
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
And finally, on the need to have not only a vision of what can be accomplished but also the determination to see it through no matter how stacked the odds seem to be against you:
It always seems impossible until it's done.
When Nelson Mandela was finally released after 27 years in prison he told the celebrating crowds of his supporters: I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.
This week his long walk came to an end. It is now our responsibility to rise to the challenge he put forward to us, and to strive to live and teach the values that he espoused and followed. Nelson Mandela will always be the quintessential hero for humankind. As we mourn his passing and celebrate his life and work we should should dedicate ourselves not to linger but to continue the long walk. It is our turn, he has earned his rest.