Tenzin Thutop Honored with GCC’s Nelson Mandela Book Award

May 7, 2015

For many years, GCC student Tenzin Thutop has looked to Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Mahatma Gandhi as role models as he works to preserve Tibet’s rich religion and culture. When Thutop heard about GCC’s Nelson Mandela Book Award that asks students to describe how they have been inspired by Mandela, he knew he had to apply. The GCC Diversity Standing Committee chose Thutop from a strong pool of applicants to be the second recipient of the Mandela Book Award. Thutop received a copy of Mandela’s autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, and a small cash award at GCC’s May 3rd Scholarship Awards Ceremony. What is the Mandela Book Award and why did Thutop receive it?  GCC’s Nelson Mandela Book Award was created in the spring of 2014 as a way to honor the life and work of Nelson Mandela after his death in December, 2013. Mandela was born in segregated South Africa in 1918 and spent his life working to end apartheid and create legal and social equality between black and white South Africans. The idea for the Award came from GCC History professor Dovi Afesi and it is now administered by the Diversity Standing Committee. It is the only award honoring Nelson Mandela presented by a college in western Massachusetts. Diversity Standing Committee Co-Chair and GCC Librarian Liza Harrington said, “Thutop’s essay stood out because he particularly linked his work in the local Tibetan community to the global struggle for freedom. He spoke eloquently about hearing Mandela’s speeches and how Mandela’s life and example influenced him personally. Thutop said he consciously brings his respect for Mandela to his work in the community.” Thutop, 41, lives in Amherst and works as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Arbors Assisted Living. He has studied nursing program prerequisites at GCC and is on the waiting list for GCC’s Associate Degree Nursing Program. Thutop was born in a Tibetan community in India where his parents settled in 1959 after fleeing Tibet when China invaded Tibet. Thutop grew up in India, attended college there, and received a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in public administration. He moved to the U.S. in 2001 and is now a U.S. citizen. Thutop volunteers teaching children from the local Tibetan community about Tibetan culture, language, and Buddhist philosophy. Along with introducing Tibetan culture, Thutop’s goal is to help the children become strong community members with good motivation and good hearts filled with compassion. He meets with the children once a week at the Sunderland Public Library. Thutop’s goal is to finish a nursing degree and bring his nursing skills to the Tibetan community in India. Thutop said, “I believe, like Mandela, that education helps people make good, positive decisions in their life. I appreciate how welcoming GCC has been to me. Struggling for freedom and education are not easy, you need to use your determination, grit, and perseverance to accomplish what you desire. If you are a fully educated person with pure altruistic motivation, then you can be a great leader, politician, teacher, lawyer, doctor, nurse, and so on. I am greatly honored to receive this award named after the great person called Nelson Mandela, who has been such a inspiration to me.” Leo Hwang, Dean of Humanities and member of the Diversity Standing Committee, said, “Thutop wrote a heartfelt essay dealing with the importance of retaining culture and ethnicity while experiencing dislocation from his Tibetan homeland. Drawing inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s emphasis on education being the ‘most powerful weapon’ to change the world, Thutop is active in sustaining Tibetan culture here in the Valley. Thutop recognizes the challenges and persecution of living under a repressive state, but like Mandela, he has chosen a path that builds and strengthens, and in that way ensures the survival of the important Tibetan culture and customs.” For information about the Nelson Mandela Book Award and the Diversity Standing Committee, email diversity@gcc.mass.edu. By Mary McClintock, ’82