School named for Mandela holds memorial

It is the oldest public school in Toronto and since 2001 it has been named after the former South African President. That’s because 12-years ago Mandela visited this school and his presence has been felt there ever since.With the drums beating and calls for their schools namesake, Nelson Mandela Park School celebrated Friday.Jhney Christmas is in grade 4: “I’m feeling sad and I’m feeling happy at the same time.”More than 450 students danced their way into the gymnasium much like Mandela did more than a decade earlier. It was November 2001, on his last trip to Canada when the school was named after the former South African President. They say he danced in to the very same drums, and told the students he loved them. Since then, students here are read quotes from Mandela on a daily basis, and on this day many shared feelings.Sabrina Dang, 5th grade: “Amazing and great because I get to stay in this school and learn in this school and learn about how he fought against racism.”Kayla Negus, 5th grade: “His spirit will still be with us, and his spirit will still be guiding other people.”Now the school stands as a memorial to Mandela with candles and images lining the front stairs. As part of their tribue, students sang both our national anthem, and South Africa’s.And despite being so young, many of the 450 children who attended this assembly feel a connection to the anti-aphartide leader, but also students who were here 12-years ago when he stood in this very gymnasium have come back to pay their respects.”Mitchell Atkinson was here and had the change to meet Mandela. He remembers the power of Mandela’s words as they affected one of his classmates: “She was supposed to be giving a speech, as well she was talking with him and she just broke down and cried, again it’s things you remember and again it’s just the magnitude of it all you really appreciate as you get older.”And on this day, as they honour the late leader, with familiar drums, a man who was instrumental in the decision to name the school after Mandela, feels a connection to the moment when Mandela graced this room.Lloyd McKell is a former Toronto District School Board educator: “It was like a replay of that day, there’s no doubt in my mind that Mandela’s spirit is here in this school today with these children, with these teachers and with all these people.”It was an emotional day, but it was far from a somber day. Everybody had smiles on their faces as they left the gymnasium as they felt they properly honoured Nelson Mandela.

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