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The power of humanity

- Wits University

Professor George Ellis challenges graduands to value the humanity of all and make a difference in the lives of others.

“You have the power to make a real difference. The contribution you will make will depend on the values which underlie your work and your life. Life’s most pertinent question is: What are you doing for others? Are we living our lives just for ourselves or for the common good?”

These were the questions that George Ellis, Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town (UCT) posed to the graduands at the Faculties of Humanities, Science, and Engineering and the Built Environment graduation ceremony on 5 July 2016.

Ellis received an honorary Doctorate at the at the graduation ceremony for his contribution to the field of science and cosmology.

During the National Party reign in the 1970s and 1980s, Ellis was a vocal opponent of apartheid. It was during this period that his research focused on the more philosophical aspects of cosmology, for which he won the Templeton Prize.

Professor Ellis is the recipient of many other awards including: the Order of the Star of South Africa, awarded by former President Nelson Mandela in 1999; the Order of Mapungubwe awarded by former President Thabo Mbeki; honorary degrees from UCT and three other universities; and the De Beers gold medal awarded by the South African Institute of Physics. 

He was delighted to receive an honorary doctorate from Wits, which he described as an illustrious institution. He hailed the University’s quality of degrees and emphasised that the graduands were receiving their degrees from a world class institution, and that their degrees would be recognised anywhere in the world.

“The degrees have value because of the status and recognition that this University has achieved through the dedicated work of hundreds of academics and staff over the course of the century. Your degrees have real institutional worth. You will have access to many further opportunities both here and abroad because of this recognition.”

He added that he was accepted for his doctoral studies at Cambridge because the BSc degree he was awarded at his alma mater, UCT was world class.

“Treasure what it means to be awarded your degrees from this institution. Your academic achievements will be recognised anywhere in the world as well as by businesses and other institutions in South Africa. The international recognition which you will receive is part of a very important theme. Students from Africa – and particularly from South Africa – can be a success story for the students from anywhere in the world. Let’s rejoice in this quality and in this recognition. “

He urged graduands to use their degrees to make a significant contribution to the world, as the world will present a wealth of opportunities for them after their graduation.

“You have graduated with these degrees in science, technology, the built enivironment and engineering. These are subjects which have the ability to change the world. You will shape the world in which we live with the technologies and the science that underlie those technologies. These technologies will change the world. The development of new technologies will affect all human life forever,” he said. 

Ellis encouraged the graduands to uphold the spirit of ubuntu, by caring for the poor and caring for others, valuing the humanity of all, and rising above the temptations of stereotypes.

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity,” he said, quoting Martin Luther King.