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Power of One

Photo by Matthew Willman, courtesy of

I am sure that by now you have learned about Nelson Mandela’s death and have seen and heard the news accounts of his inspiring life and powerful legacy. As members of a University community dedicated to the transforming power of education, affiliated with a faith-based tradition, and committed to civic responsibility, we should pause to reflect on the example of this great man.

His improbable life and enormous accomplishments testify to the Power of One, the view that one individual can make a difference and leave a legacy of profound leadership.  Mandela’s life signifies how a single person can foster positive change and create a better world.

Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years for resisting racial segregation, but he never lost faith in human nature. Upon release from prison, he  demonstrated that faith by forgiving his oppressors. He served South Africa as its President for just five years, but his influence as a moral leader encompassed the entire world.  Recent news reports have recalled that during  “his very first year in office racial tensions threatened to explode into civil war, so President Mandela orchestrated an iconic, unifying moment: He donned the green jersey of the Springboks rugby team – beloved by whites, despised by blacks – to present the World Cup trophy to the team captain while the stunned crowd erupted in cheers of “Nelson! Nelson!”  It was a riveting moment that underscored the Power of One.

As President Obama so aptly said of Nelson Mandela’s death, “He now belongs to the ages.” Indeed, he does, and his life will long be remembered as the force that ended apartheid and became a true icon on the world stage.

So let us remember him and be guided by his powerful, positive example of forgiveness, moral leadership, and all that one person can do.