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“If we were all asked to independently define ‘the Lafayette Ideal,’ there is no doubt that each definition would differ from the next—a concept that illustrates our diversity in thought, background, need, representation, and priority,” said Pepper Prize winner Nangula Shejavali ’06 when she was nominated as one of 10 finalists for the award.

  • The McDonogh Report celebrates the contributions of African Americans to the Lafayette community.

The first woman of African descent to receive the Pepper Prize, Shejavali said, “I believe that a student who challenges complacency and strives to ‘be the change they wish to see in the world,’ as Gandhi said, embodies this ‘ideal.’”

She was indeed active in creating positive change during her four years on campus. The founder and chairperson of the student organization ACACIA (Africans Creating African Consciousness and Interest Abroad), Shejavali, of Windhoek, Namibia, was the prime mover in organizing two major conferences on the present and future of Africa. She was also president of the International Students Association and a leader or member of the Association of Black Collegians, NIA, Lafayette African and Caribbean Students Association, and Hispanic Society of Lafayette, among others.

“There is an African proverb that states, ‘When a needle falls into a deep well, many people will look into the well, but few will be ready to go down after it,’ Shejavali said. “There have been many such needles both on and off the Lafayette campus, represented by issues such as diversity, social justice, cross-cultural dialogue, international understanding, and discourse on Africa. It is within the realm of these issues that I have personally striven to enact change at Lafayette.”

She was honored with the David A. Portlock Cross-Cultural Relationships Award, given annually to a student for working diligently to promote cross-cultural relationships on campus, and/or the community, and The People’s Choice Award, given to students or employees known as unusually productive and concerned for the betterment of the college and its student body.

Shejavali also served as head resident adviser and a member of the presidential inauguration committee and search committees for the provost, director of religious life, and others. She graduated magna cum laude with majors in international affairs and Africana studies and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In her honors thesis in Africana studies she analyzed the efficacy and sustainability of healthcare systems for HIV/AIDS orphans and vulnerable children in Namibia.

Speaking at the 171st Commencement in May, Shejavali cited another African proverb: Hunt in every forest, for there is wisdom and good hunting in all of them.

“Looking back on your own experience, how have you diversified your hunt?” she asked her classmates. “Have you sought knowledge only from those people and places that looked most appealing or did you broaden that experience to include people of different backgrounds, economic statuses, job titles, races, religions, sexual preferences, and ethnicities? In the planning of a Dance Marathon, the setting up of an Extravaganza show, the winning of a football game, or your day-to-day experiences in the residence halls, how many times did you take the opportunity to create friendships with the custodians, grounds staff, secretaries? Did you limit your friendship circle to include only those that look, think, speak and act like you or did you embrace diversity in all its forms to enrich your Lafayette Experience?

“Today I am challenging you to remove yourself from your comfort zone, and hunt in those forests that may not look so appealing, but from which great wisdom and good hunting can be found.”

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles