12/13/2013 12:31 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2014

Passing of President Nelson Mandela

Immediately after learning of the passing of former President Nelson Mandela, I was overcome with a sense of loss and immediately reminded of the extraordinary legacy of this remarkable human being. Affectingly known as Madiba, President Mandela has touched the world in a very special and unique way. He was a bright and shining star, an example what it truly means to live the magnificent South African philosophy of Ubuntu - "I can't be all I can be until you can be all you can be." As President Obama so beautifully stated, "Mandela is no longer ours, he now belongs to the ages."

I will always remember the beautiful day in June 1990, when Madiba came to Boston just four months after his release from prison. I was privileged to attend the luncheon at the John F. Kennedy Library hosted by Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Mrs. Jacqueline Onassis. It was truly a unique and momentous occasion. We were proud of our great City, and we were in awe to be in the presence of Mandela. His message was short but powerful. He inspired and reaffirmed for me the belief that nothing is impossible. In 2011, I was very pleased to represent Wheelock on a mission to South Africa sponsored by our collaborator South Africa Partners. I returned, touched by the spirit of this remarkable country and the influence of President Mandela.

President Mandela often said that "Education is the most powerful weapon you can choose to change the world." I take solace in the immense opportunity to use education to advance and improve the world for children and families. For nearly eight years, the community at Wheelock College has been touched by the great nation of South Africa. We were privileged to grant an honorary degree to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. I will always remember the extraordinary time he spent on our campus and how the College used the lessons learned to create our own special commitment to Ubuntu. Wheelock is fortunate to continue our long standing collaboration with South Africa Partners, grateful for the relationship with our International Visiting scholars Tony and Hilary Hamburg and their work in Alexander Township, and for the amazing work of alum, Toby Milner and her husband Charles, as they strive to improve the lives of children and families in the rural community of Lillydale.

In just less than four weeks, two Wheelock faculty members will travel with a group of students to South Africa for a Service Learning trip in Alexandra Township at Ububele, in Lillydale and in East London. They will also visit Robben Island where President Mandela spent 27 years in prison; I believe that our students will return with a deeper appreciation for all that this great man accomplished and even more committed to our special mission to improve the lives of children and families.

During this next week, I know that many of you will witness and share in South Africa's celebration of the life and legacy of President Nelson Mandela. We will be reminded of his great courage, perseverance, leadership and humanity, and we will be inspired to do more in our quest for human dignity for all.