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Mandela to join QUB's honorary graduate list

Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela has accepted a unique honour from Queen's to mark its centenary as a university.

The former President of South Africa will formally become the university's Centenary Honorary Graduate at a ceremony tonight.

The 90-year-old, who led the struggle against apartheid, has received his honorary Doctorate for distinction in public service from Sir Anthony O'Reilly, chief executive of Independent News and Media PLC, which owns the Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life and Community Telegraph titles.

Mr Mandela, who cannot be in Belfast, has recorded a message which will be relayed to the audience at tonight's ceremony.

In his citation, Queen's Chancellor, Senator George Mitchell, will describe President Mandela as "an inspirational figure".

Born in 1918, just 10 years after Queen's received its Royal Charter, Nelson Mandela was elected his country's first black President in 1994.

His work for peace was recognised in 1993 when he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with President FW de Klerk.

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Mr Mandela is one of thousands of graduands who will be joining Queen's alumni family this week. His degree will be officially conferred at a special ceremony during the university's graduation dinner this evening.

Senator Mitchell said: "He is an inspirational figure and a global statesman whose courage and leadership brought about healing within a nation divided by apartheid."

Sir Anthony, who holds an Honorary Doctorate from Queen's and is a close friend of Mr Mandela, said: "It was a real honour for me to hand over the parchment on behalf of the university. Nelson Mandela is an exceptional human being... He told me that this award was very precious to him."

Vice-Chancellor Prof Peter Gregson said: "In honouring Nelson Mandela in our centenary year, Queen's recognises a global citizen who has shown us what can be achieved by selfless commitment to justice, equality and reconciliation."

Accepting his honorary degree, President Mandela said: "Thank you for the honour bestowed upon us today. My grandchildren will be impressed when I can boast I have an honorary doctorate from such an esteemed institution.

"Queen's University Belfast plays a central role in the life of Northern Ireland and is key to its future."

He thanked the student body for naming Mandela Hall after him in opposition to apartheid.

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