Meredith Moment: Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai Lecture

The Meredith College community is saddened to learn of the death of Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Green Belt Movement leader Wangari Maathai, who died September 25, 2011, from cancer. We look back at Maathai’s 2009 visit to Meredith, when she delivered the Lillian Parker Wallace Lecture. While on campus, she planted a magnolia between Johnson Hall and Joyner Hall, as part of Meredith’s own green belt. The story below was adapted from Meredith Magazine’s Fall 2009 issue.

Nobel Laureate Brings Message of Change to Meredith

Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai delivered the 2009 Lillian Parker Wallace Lecture on October 1, bringing Meredith’s current campus theme, “Catalyst for Change,” to life.

Maathai has fought political corruption, struggled for women’s rights, spent time in jail, and won a seat in her country’s Parliament. The Green Belt Movement Maathai established has helped to restore Kenya’s indigenous forests and involved women in sustainable agriculture. She is internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. She and the Green Belt Movement have received numerous awards, most notably the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Maathai said U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” speech had inspired her to make a difference in her country.

“[Kennedy’s words] have been my guiding light,” Maathai said. “I want to do something to give back … why not? Why can’t I do something to help?”

Meredith student Ida Githu, ’12, said Maathai’s achievements as the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate, first female professor in the region, and first African woman to earn a Nobel Peace Prize make her a role model for women.

“She shows you what is possible in education, in politics, and shows women can rise to whatever position they want to rise,” said Githu, who is from Kenya.

Maathai’s visit to Meredith has made a lasting impact on the campus. Meredith students planted a Green Belt on the College grounds in honor of Maathai’s life work and her visit to Meredith. Each student enrolled in First Year Experience had the opportunity to plant a tree, arranged on campus in arboretum-style and botanically interesting groupings, resulting in the planting of over 350 trees.

While on campus, Maathai contributed to the Green Belt by planting a magnolia tree between Johnson Hall and Joyner Hall. She praised Meredith’s tree planting effort, noting that her Green Belt Movement had planted 7 billion trees worldwide since 2006.

The Wallace Lecture honors Lillian Parker Wallace, who served as professor of history at Meredith from 1921 to 1962, and as chair of the history department from 1947 until her retirement. Exposing generations of students to prominent leaders was the fund’s intent from the very beginning.

Wangari Maathai is the fourth Nobel Peace Prize recipient to deliver the Wallace Lecture, following Jimmy Carter, Elie Wiesel and Shirin Ebadi.

Visit for more on Wangari Maathai.

Date Submitted: 2011-09-26

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