When Nelson Mandela Gave NYU Wagner a Helping Hand

It is only a footnote in the life of a great historical figure, but the gesture of support that Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) made for NYU Wagner more than a decade ago marks a spectacular moment in the life of the public service graduate school.

Initially postponed by the September 11, 2001, attacks, the campus visit the following May by the Nobel Peace Prize recipient and leader of the emancipation of South Africa helped to catalyze an innovative Fellowship designed to bring students from Africa to Wagner to study public policy and management. His visit that day attracted the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who provided generous financial support to launch the African Women's Public Service Fellowship.

Many dignitaries attended the event, where Mandela at the same time received NYU's Presidential Medal, and his appearance was punctuated by thunderous applause. But with quietly overpowering dignity, he delivered a simple message. The Wagner school's commitment to Africa represented an opportunity for mutual learning in the important work of nation and community building, and Mandela exhorted the next generation of public service leaders to take up the struggle for equality, justice, and liberty for all.

"The struggle for true and universal human emancipation still lies ahead of the children, youth and future generations," he said, in words that continue to resonate with urgency and truth.

The NYU Wagner community joins the world over in mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela.