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Chicago man awarded Sandor Teszler Award by Wofford College

 EbooPatel
 

From left, Benjamin B. Dunlap, president of Wofford College, and David S. Wood, senior vice president of academic affairs at Wofford College, and Ron R. Robinson, Perkins-Prothro chaplain and professor of religion at Wofford College, far right, confer an honorary degree to Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, Tuesday during the Sixth Annual Sandor Teszler Award Convocation held at Leonard Auditorium at Wofford College.Photo by: MICHAEL JUSTUS/michael.justus@shj.com

 

By Felicia Kitzmiller
The Spartanburg Herald-Journal
felicia.kitzmiller@shj.com
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 201
3 

Wofford College celebrated the values of courage, justice and understanding as personified by two men at a ceremony Tuesday.

Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Chicago-based group Interfaith Youth Core, was presented with the Sandor Teszler Award and an honorary doctorate in humanities. Interfaith Youth Core is a group that promotes religious pluralism and mutually respectful and inspirational relationships across religious divides through community service. The group focuses on college campuses around the world in an effort to harness the inherent diversity and shape the practices of a generation of future leaders.

Patel, a Rhodes Scholar, has written two books on religious pluralism, “Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation” and “Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America.” He is a regular contributor for several news organizations and served on one of President Barack Obama's inaugural advisory councils. He is a renowned speaker and a member of several boards dedicated to global unity.

“Dr. Eboo Patel is a person genuinely improving the world through his tireless effort to remind us of the richness of our nation's founding tradition of religious pluralism,” said David Wood, senior vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college of humanities.

Patel was chosen on the basis of his morality, courage, and service to a broad constituency, said President Benjamin Dunlap.

“Your vision is a beacon of hope for us all,” Dunlap said to Patel before the author received his ceremonial hood.

Patel is the sixth recipient of the Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind. The award is named for the textile mogul and long-time Wofford College patron whom Dunlap said became the “conscience and moral spirit of Wofford College” before his death in 2000 at the age of 97.

An Austro-Hungarian Jew, Teszler and his family were nearly killed in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Teszler relocated to the United States where, in coordination with his son, he launched a textiles empire. Abhorring discrimination following persecution in Europe, Teszler insisted his plants be integrated, despite the intense racial tensions in the South at the time.

Teszler audited classes at Wofford for more than a decade and could frequently be found reading on campus. While technically a student, the Wofford faculty was overwhelmed by the wealth of experience, knowledge and insight Teszler brought to the classroom. He was made an honorary adjunct professor.

“The drama is unbearable,” Patel said of the story of Teszler's life. “I fully expect a Wofford graduate to write the screen play.”

Patel said he was honored by the award and degree and said he wished he had known Teszler.

“This old Hungarian man, who could've lived a thousand lives, chose these halls and these desks for his valedictory. That says an awful lot about Sandor Teszler. That says an awful lot about Wofford College,” Patel said.

Patel speculated Teszler must have been the impetus for many profound awakenings for Wofford students. Patel contemplated out loud the sight of a 95-year-old man with a hefty net worth shuffling to class fueled not by the dangling carrot of a degree and a good job, but the simple desire to learn.

“There's a realization that whatever it is God gave you, I want. I want to be 95 years old and eager to go to class for no particular reason,” Patel said. “… Those moments shape people's lives.”


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