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Karim-Sesay gives ‘last lecture’ on Africa

Waithera Karim-Sesay delivers a talk in the style of a “last lecture” on Sunday. DTH/ Daniel Sircar
Waithera Karim-Sesay delivers a talk in the style of a “last lecture” on Sunday. DTH/ Daniel Sircar

In her lecture Sunday, Waithera Karim-Sesay showed that there’s more to Africa than meets the eye.

In her “last lecture,” titled “Humanizing the Continent of Africa: Demystifying Myths and Stereotypes that Encroach It,” Karim-Sesay provided a more holistic view of the vast diversity of Africa and its people.

She gave her lecture as the winner of the Carolina Chiron Award for Excellence in Teaching. In its second year, the award recognizes the intellectual achievements of a professor and honors his or her dedication to undergraduates.

The award is inspired by a 2007 lecture by Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor who spoke shortly after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

Recipients of the Carolina Chiron Award give their own form of a “last lecture,” speaking as though it’s the final address of their life and sharing what they consider to be important for students looking to live life to the fullest.

Karim-Sesay, a visiting professor in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, began by explaining that African stereotypes do not accurately reflect the diverse community that spans the continent.

“I was amazed that African knowledge was limited to what Hollywood was able to project,” Karim-Sesay said.

She debunked some myths about Africa — including ideas that the continent is a jungle or that there is a single “African” language — by showing pictures of her home in Nairobi and describing the wide range of religions and types of dwellings that exist in the region.

“No one culture is superior or perfect,” she said.

She dedicated some life lessons to UNC students, including showing respect to elders, avoiding negativity and living each day like it’s the last.

She also encouraged students to stop using text messaging, Facebook and Twitter, saying it wastes time and triggers anxiety while people wait for a response.

Karim-Sesay told students to get a passport, go out into the world, explore and discover.

“Africa belongs to all of us,” she said. “Believe in hope. There is hope.”

After the lecture, students from her Kiswahili class shared African proverbs they memorized.

Karim-Sesay then led a song in Kiswahili, ending with ‘Chapel Hill, hakuna matata,’ or ‘Chapel Hill, no problems.’”

Last year’s recipient was Paul Ferguson, a professor of performance studies in the Department of Communications.

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