CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Eight years ago, unbeknownst to me, I became part of a social experiment. The setting was the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, a decade after the end of apartheid.
I was a bright-eyed 19-year-old who had barely ventured outside her hometown in Bridgeport, W.Va. I traveled to South Africa to study at the University of Stellenbosch -- a traditional Afrikaans university that had recently become integrated to allow non-white students.
At the time I enrolled, the university was going through a time of great transition. Nelson Mandela had been urging South African universities, including Stellenbosch, to rid themselves of the legacies of apartheid and embrace the idea of the "rainbow nation" -- institutions where students of all racial, religious, and ethnic could learn and prosper. Thus, Stellenbosch appointed a new chancellor of the university whose goal was to do just that.
The chancellor created a new dorm on campus named Metanoia (Greek for "Change of heart, change of mind") which was the first at the university to house students of mixed gender, religion, ethnicity and race. It was also the first dorm to host a handful of international students, including myself.
The university administration had high hopes for our dorm. The city of Stellenbosch was struggling to adjust to the end of apartheid and the beginning of an integrated society. If anyone could change the tides, it would be us -- the young, open and educated generation in South Africa.
Surprisingly (or not so), things worked. We had our fair share of growing pains, as any group of young adults do, but the fights about what to serve in the cafeteria or what our dorm mascot would be far outnumbered the fights regarding race, religion or language. As Mandela could have predicted, the commonalities we shared as being members of the human race transcended all of our barriers.
Although we did not understand its significance at the time, our experience fostered great hope for South Africa's future. It also left me with a group of lifelong friends and memories that would forever shape my worldview.
Today, as I sit here reflecting on Mandela's passing, I remember his words and the lessons I learned in my dorm in South Africa: "No one is born hating another person because the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Renzelli, of Bridgeport, is a law clerk in the U.S. District Court in West Virginia's Northern District.