At Webster University’s December Toast, Benjamin Ola Akande, dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology, shared a story with graduates about having the courage to overcome the challenges of living in a state of unpredictability. Watch a video of his speech or read his full remarks below.
Madiba: The Courage to Live
Comments at Webster University’s December Commencement
Dean Benjamin Ola. Akande
In the past days as the world mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as he is affectionately referred to, Richard Stengel, who collaborated with Mandela on his autobiography, tells a story that I believe is relevant for our December Webster University graduates:
Richard tells it this way: “Nelson and I were on a flight down to Natal Province in a prop plane. There were maybe four of us on the plane. As soon as we get on the plane, Mandela picks up a newspaper. You see, he adores newspapers. I guess he didn’t have them for so many years while in prison and so he revels in the touch of newspaper, and he reads every single story, cover to cover.
And so the plane takes off, and I am sitting across from Mandela and he is reading his newspaper, and we’re about halfway there and then Mandela points at the window. “Look,” he said. And I saw, to my horror, the propeller had stopped turning. Mandela said very, very calmly, “Richard, you might want to inform the pilot that the propeller isn’t working.”
I said, “Yes, Madiba.” I walked to the front of the plane but the pilot was already aware of the situation and he said to me, “Go back and sit down. We’ve called the airport. They have the ambulances already out there and they’re going to coat the runway with foam.”
I went back to my seat and told Madiba what the pilot had told me, and in a very solemn way, he listened, and said, “Yes.” and then picked up his newspaper again and continued to read it. I was terrified, but the way I calmed myself down was by looking at Mandela. He was as calm as could be.
The plane landed without any incident and he never changed his expression. When we had a brief moment alone, Madiba turned to me and said, “Man, I was scared up there.” it was such a revelation because I realized that courage is not being scared. Courage is being terrified and not showing it.
So I was empowered by this experience. I became courageous by watching Madiba. That’s what Mandela did his entire life overcoming insurmountable challenges living in a state of unpredictability, functioning in a world of no assurances full of fear and uncertainty.
So graduates, I leave you with the words of Mandela: “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man and woman is not one who does not feel afraid, but one who conquers that fear.”
As you begin this new chapter in your life, please do not allow fear to dictate your actions. Don’t be distracted when the propeller stops working, when things don’t work as they should. You have earned the right to remain strong and confident in the midst of uncertainty. May you find a way to rise above your fear, just like Madiba. Congratulations!