The Wittenberg University class of 2018 has chosen King Letsie III, the Constitutional Monarch of the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho, to present the keynote address at the university’s 168th Commencement Exercises, set to take place in picturesque Commencement Hollow on May 12, 2018.
“We wanted a speaker students would connect with in a meaningful way. Knowing the passion our community has for the people of Lesotho -- one built on years of service and learning in the country -- we are excited to welcome King Letsie III to help us pass on our light to others,” said Mecca Abdul-Aziz, 2018 senior class president.
Indeed, Lesotho holds a special place in the hearts of the Wittenberg students, alumni and the entire campus. Since 2003, more than 400 Wittenberg students and community members have participated in a service-learning trip to Lesotho through a program founded by Scott Rosenberg, professor of history, chair of Wittenberg’s Peace Corps Prep Program, and Honorary Consul to the Kingdom of Lesotho.
“The entire Springfield community, through the collaboration between Wittenberg and the Springfield Rotary Club, holds the country of Lesotho near and dear to their hearts. Joint and independent projects over the past 10 years have made Wittenberg and Springfield, Ohio, synonymous to the Basotho people,” Rosenberg explained.
Inspired by Rosenberg’s own years in the Peace Corps, the program participants spend four weeks in service, helping to build houses, planting gardens, creating playgrounds, and volunteering at orphanages and a pediatric AIDS clinic, among other activities. Many of the sites the students volunteer at are projects begun by Springfield Rotary, and now both groups work together toward their sustainability.
In choosing King Letsie III as speaker, Rosenberg notes that “Lesotho has given so much to the students of Wittenberg University, making them more caring and empathetic people who are genuinely committed to bringing about positive change on a global scale.”
A country of slightly more than two million, Lesotho has an estimated 200,000 orphans and an estimated 33 percent of children under the age of five years that suffer from severe malnutrition and stunting. Only 11 percent of Basotho children aged six to 23 months fall into the criteria for a minimum acceptable diet.
Three years ago, a small group of Wittenberg students and faculty members, also led by Rosenberg, started the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative, which is a 501c3 non-profit that provides 350,000 meals a year to 1,500 children in Lesotho suffering from severe malnutrition and stunting.
During a recent service-learning trip to Lesotho, Rosenberg and a group of Wittenberg students were invited to meet with King Letsie III. It was the 14th group that Rosenberg has taken since 2003. As part the group’s royal meeting, Rosenberg said the king was keenly interested in the projects the students were doing, particularly the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative, which the king, himself, is interested in engaging more with in the future.
King Letsie III succeeded his father, Moshoeshoe II, as monarch of his country in 1996. In 2000, he declared HIV/AIDS in Lesotho to be a national disaster, prompting worldwide attention and aid to those in need. In 2014, he was appointed as African Nutrition Champion by the African Union, and in 2016 he was named special ambassador for nutrition by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Of his appointment, his Majesty stated: “To me it is a great honor to be appointed as FAO Special Ambassador for Nutrition because it is a subject matter which I feel has been neglected for many years, but it is of great importance not only to us as individuals but to countries in the world as a whole, so I am hoping that through my ambassadorship I can contribute to the promotion of better nutrition and food security through the world.”
Born in 1963 he was named Mohato after Moshoeshoe I’s (the founder of the Basotho nation) eldest son, who became Letsie I. His secondary education was in the United Kingdom at Ampleforth College. He completed a bachelor’s degree in law at National University of Lesotho in 1984, and thereafter he completed a diploma in English Legal studies at the University of Bristol and took development studies classes and agricultural economics at Cambridge University and the University of London. King Letsie III married Karabo Anna Mots’oeneng, now Queen ‘Masenate in 2000 in a Roman Catholic ceremony, and together, they have three children.
For more on Wittenberg’s 2018 Commencement or the university’s service in Lesotho, visit www.wittenberg.edu.
 2016 Population and Housing Census
 2014 Lesotho Demographic Health Survey