26 July 2018
Artist, social activist and UNESCO Special Envoy Forest Whitaker gave an inspirational speech at SOAS University of London’s 2018 graduation ceremonies where he called on the new graduates to use their open mind and "freshness of vision" to address the problems of our society.
Mr Whitaker accepted his Honorary Fellowship from fellow Honorary the television and radio presenter Zeinab Badawi for his humanitarian work. SOAS Director Baroness Valerie Amos CH was also present at the ceremony.
He dedicated his award to the young people he met and worked with through his humanitarian work:
“In receiving this fellowship I think in particular of those young people that I’m working with in Mexico, South Sudan and Uganda - the kind of places that have been impacted by conflict and armed violence.
“Some have been through painful trials that many adults will never experience in their entire lives. Those who were child soldiers missed many years of their schooling and most of them will never have seen a college. Let me add immediately that these young people don’t want to be seen as victims… they live in the hope and aim of a new future.
“They keep coming up with bright ideas, new ideas to help the youth. The people turn their communities into prosperous spaces, places that are filled with peace.
“They deserve my recognition on this day when I receive this fellowship at SOAS because they are some of my role models. I do believe that their capacity to transform their communities into better places is itself a call for action that everyone must heed.”
Dr Phil Clark introduced Mr Whitaker noting that: “In an era of continued mass conflict and attempts by global leaders to divide societies across racial, ethnic and religious lines, Forest’s work as an activist and peace envoy are both inspirational and essential. His life’s work also resonates deeply with SOAS’s philosophy of encouraging understanding and empathy across national and social divides and harnessing the immense potential of young people for the good of all our communities.”
Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor, artist and social activist. He is the founder and CEO of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) through which he has developed the Youth Peacemaker Network, a global peacebuilding social network with hubs in South Sudan, Uganda, and Mexico. He is the UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation and a member of the Advocacy Group of the United Nations for the Sustainable Development Goals. He has received numerous awards for his charitable activities and social activism. The Chairman of the NAACP described Mr Whitaker’s humanitarian engagement as “truly inspirational”.
The full speech can be watched here.