Dare to be Different: Mark Mathabane Speaks at Dublin High School


Daniel Oden

Mark Mathabane delved into a deeper meaning of common humanity.

On Wednesday, May 24, 2017, between fourth period and lunch, hundreds of students crowded into Dublin High School’s Center for Performing Arts and Education, buzzing with excitement and anticipation. The expectation in the atmosphere was tangible, the whole audience waiting with bated breath for an announcement of what was to come. And what were they waiting for? Mark Mathabane, lecturer, professor, and award-winning author of several moving books; the man who escaped. Read more about him here.


The first announcement was a disappointing one: Mark Mathabane was stuck in traffic, and would be arriving a little later than planned, a phenomenon every single Bay Area commuter has experienced and empathizes with. This meant that the speech would last later into the day, perhaps ending during fifth or sixth period, and would upset many of the students’ plans of being able to see the famed author during their lunch period and then returning to class on time. Nevertheless, the students in the audience began to take action, emailing and talking to teachers about their situation, to be able to miss class for this rare opportunity.


Then, towards the end of lunch, a sudden silence rippled throughout the theater, with heads turning to the doors to see a man in a suit and a blue plaid hat walk in, accompanied by English 10 Advanced teachers, Ms. Hollison and Ms. Vallejo. The audience scrambled into their seats and cheered as the author walked into the Performing Arts Center. Mark Mathabane waved and smiled, to more applause, before heading backstage to prepare for his lecture.


Although fifth period had begun, the theater was still full, the audience quiet as Ms. Hollison and Ms. Vallejo walked onto the stage and introduced the guest of the day, thanking him for being there and “empowering students to reach for a common humanity,” the topic of his lecture for the day. Mr. Mathabane was then made an “honorary Gael on behalf of the Free the Slaves Club” and gifted a Gael spirit shirt.


As soon as the applause had died down, Mr. Mathabane began to speak, first with a joke about mistaking Dublin, California for Dublin, Ireland and being lost before he found his way to Dublin High School. Then, slowly, the air was more serious as he delved into a deeply inspiring, passionate, moving speech, one that had the audience enthralled. He wove his personal experiences throughout his messages of being grateful for every gift in life, no matter how little, and of embracing the differences between people to help everyone rise up to their full potential in a world filled with “unconditional love.” The lecture included the importance of education, empathy, and action, of striving to be the best that a person can be.


Mark Mathabane spoke about how, even though the apartheid has ended, families are still forced apart because of war and conflict in different countries, and people are suffering. As humans living on one planet, we must do whatever is in our power to do something.


“We, who are lucky, must feel their pain and do something to alleviate it, rather than shut the door, deny them entry into our country, or call them names that justify indifference […] All I have to do is to look into my own heart and to ask myself, if I were in your shoes, how would I feel if all this was happening to me? That’s all I need to know. And that’s what compels me to speak out, to act, to be my brother and sister’s keeper. Because our survival on this planet, it’s not even a planet, it’s like a hut, in which we are all members of the same extended family, the human family, the only race that matters in the unknowns of history.”


As he went deeper into the idea of a common humanity, Mathabane spoke about the significance of accepting differences. Though we all come from different backgrounds and cultures, we are all residents of a single planet, he argued, making us all global citizens. And as global citizens, we should do all that we can to help our fellow citizens, no matter who they are or where they come from.


“We are here. This is our home. We have to make it the best home possible for all, which is why we must recognize that differences need not inspire hatred or fear, because they are the lifeblood of a vibrant and progressive society […] My expectation is that you will fulfill your potential. You will make a difference in the lives of others. That you will be the leaders of the future. And this future that we’re talking about takes place in a global world…You have to be a global citizen.”


Because of the impoverished life he lived throughout his childhood, Mark Mathabane also emphasized the importance of luck in the lives of Dublin High students. He counseled his audience to be grateful for every part of their life.


“Be thankful for the little things, the comforts in your life. You may not think they are a big deal, but having a bed is a big deal. Having food is a big deal. Having shoes, having clothes, is a big deal.”


Finally, he finished his speech with motivation, urging the students in the audience to try and change the world.


“Together, you will work to not only create a better world for all, but to make sure that no human child ever goes through what I went through. And I know you will. I absolutely know you will. The reason I know that is because despite all your privilege, despite all the comforts in your lives and the many choices you have, you decided, after you were exposed to my life story, to care, to express empathy. That tells me that not only did you feel my pain, but you will do something to alleviate it when you become that leader that I know you will become […] Make the best of that luck. That’s all there is – you could have been born elsewhere, but you were not, you were born in America. Thank you.”


As the spell that captivated the audience was broken, they gave him a long standing ovation, their cheers expressing their genuine appreciation of his being there.


Mark Mathabane stayed throughout sixth period, taking pictures with students and signing books and various other items that people brought to him, such as phones, shoes, hats and laptops. The lobby of the Performing Arts Center was crammed with adoring students, who continued to let him know how inspired they were by the events of his life. He seemed equally proud of them, smiling contentedly at every student, to know that they would go on to make a change in the world.


During seventh period, there was a question-and-answer session, in which students were allowed to ask Mr. Mathabane any questions they wished. Although he had only planned on staying till the end of fifth period, Mr. Mathabane ended up leaving Dublin High School at around 4:30pm, after seeing and admiring the love, compassion, and acceptance that thrives within Dublin High School. As a surprise, he announced that his upcoming film, There Lies Hope, will have a high school premier at Dublin High School. Mr. Mathabane will travel to South Africa this summer to film the movie, which is heavily based off of his book Kaffir Boy.


The key takeaways from the lecture were to not be afraid to make a change and try out a new idea. All changes begin with someone who dared to pursue a new idea. In the words of Mark Mathabane, someone who “dared to be different”!