Vanderbilt Hillel honors Rwandan hero, Paul Rusesabagina.
After the release of the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” the story of Paul Rusesabagina became familiar to many.
Rusesabagina was the courageous manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, Rwanda who saved more than 1,200 people during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
He is a sought-after speaker at many universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, New York University and Binghamton University.
So when it was announced that Rusesabagina would visit Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt Hillel came up with an idea to honor the man often dubbed the “Oscar Schindler of Africa.”
The Hillel decided to designate a tree in its courtyard in Rusesabagina’s name at a ceremony prior to his lecture at the university’s Student Life Center on September 25.
“I thought it could be like what we do at Yad Vashem for the Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust; just honor him and see him as a humanitarian,” said Ur Barzel, program director at the Vanderbilt Hillel.
And the gesture meant so much to Rusesabagina, he asked if he could keep the plaque from the ceremony which bore the inscription: This tree, the metaphor for the Torah in Judaism, represents knowledge and our commitment to education, symbolizes growth and flexibility, and is the sustenance for spiritual nourishment.
For the more than 80 students who attended the ceremony it was also a chance to meet this inspirational man.
“What he’s done is so admirable,” said Vanderbilt junior, Danielle Dittrich. “I shook his hand and just said ‘thank you.’”
"He encouraged all the students there to be activists in our own community and speak out on issues of genocide,” added Vanderbilt Hillel Student President Molly Somberg. “His visit was truly memorable."