DAVIE — “Dream. Be an idealist. Don’t be a cynic like me,” said Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, appealing to the students in his audience last week at Nova Southeastern University.
Tutu wrapped his sometimes serious message into a humorous blanket in a Feb. 26 presentation called “Good vs. Evil: Human Rights or Humans Wronged.”
The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate delivered his take on the university lecture series’ annual academic theme, “Good and Evil.” He touched on hot-button issues of today: wars, climate change, natural disasters, disease and oppression.
And although Tutu made efforts to reach out to students, some may not have been there to hear him.
“To be quite honest, I had no real interest to go see the archbishop in the first place, mainly because I knew nothing about him prior to the show,” said Michael McGregor, an NSU senior. “I walked into the Don Taft University Center expecting to be preached to for an hour and was not looking forward to it. However, I was blown away about the relaxed and comfortable setting he brought to the entire show.’’
McGregor attended Tutu’s speech because his communications class at the university required it. But, he said, he found Tutu to be more entertaining than he had believed.
“I found him to be very funny, which again wasn't what I was expecting,’’ McGregor said. “Sadly, I think that a lot of people of my generation missed out on a great opportunity by not going to this show, and it saddens me to say that if I wasn't forced to go, I would have been one of those people to miss out.”
Though he was not giving a sermon, Tutu did speak about how God views the choices His creation makes. The wrong choices men make against men are observed by God, Tutu said.
“God has given us a real gift, the gift of choice,” Tutu said. “God sees people using the Bible to justify apartheid; God sees the symbol of the cross used to justify lynching. And He weeps. God weeps.”
Tutu’s speech came days after the Dalai Lama’s visit to the university, as part of NSU’s Distinguished Speaker Series. The presentation was open to the community.
O’Neil Chin and his wife, Sharon, responded to a newspaper invitation to the free event.
O’Neil Chin said that in the university setting, Tutu may have tempered the presentation, because of the mixed, general audience.
“I went because of the history surrounding the man and the fierce position he has taken for human rights, pre- and post-apartheid,” Chin said. “I don’t know if he made a connection with the audience, but he may have challenged people to go and make an effort to find out more about him. Overall, it was a worthwhile presentation, one that I could see the value of being done again.”
Tutu addressed the young people in the audience, reminding them they are the future and that they can still cause positive change in the world. It was the quality of the oration that appealed to Plantation resident Donna Wynter.
“He wasn’t preaching. He was not being a bishop,” Wynter said. “He was trying to make a point that young people are the future, and they can make good decisions for the environment, injustice, and good vs. evil. Whether they got it, is another story.”
Tutu, now 79, is most known for his staunch opposition to apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid fostered a complete separation of races, and blacks were not granted citizenship. Apartheid ended on April 27, 1994, when Black Human Rights Activist and former African National Congress President Nelson Mandela cast a vote for himself.
Tutu used his theological education as a platform to challenge inequality. And like many of his generation, has many firsts: He was the first black African to serve as dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg; the first black secretary general of the South African Council of Churches; and the first black African archbishop of Cape Town.
He retired as archbishop in 1996.
In 2007, Tutu, Mandela, former U. S. President Jimmy Carter, retired United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan and others became founding members of the Elders, a group of influential, yet independent, human rights loyalists.
Last year, President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tutu, recognizing his contributions to promote peace.
Tutu didn’t speak much about his struggles against evil.
“I think he could/should have talked more about his human rights activism,” McGregor said. “There is a lack of knowledge that surrounds Desmond Tutu, especially with people in my generation.”
Photo: Desmond Tutu