This month, some of the world’s brightest stars have passed away – and three individuals in particular, whose work spanned continents and will endure far beyond August of 2018. Aretha Franklin, Kofi Annan and VS Naipaul have all played a role into shaping our world, and each of them have actually helped shape me as well. I couldn’t possibly do them all justice today, but I wanted to share three of my favorite little nuggets about each of them.
Aretha Franklin was a singer, a writer, a pianist. She had a powerhouse voice, dubbed the “Queen of Soul”, she sang at the inauguration of three presidents, and she worked alongside all of the big names of the entertainment industry. But she also said this:
‘Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.’
It’s my second favorite Franklin quote.*
Kofi Annan was born in Ghana and served as the Secretary General of the United Nations during some of my more formative years – 1997 to 2006. While his time there was not without controversy, his dedication to humanitarian aid and global development has been unwavering. Annan was also known for his humility – when accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, he said:
“This award belongs not just to me. I do not stand here alone. On behalf of my colleagues in every part of the United Nations, in every corner of the globe, who have devoted their lives – and in many instances risked or given their lives in the cause of peace – I thank the Members of the Nobel Prize Committee for this high honor.”
And last, V.S. Naipaul, was a celebrated author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and wrote complex, deeply moving stories that take place in India, Africa, and Trinidad – most notably A House for Mr. Biswas.
“The longer I live the more convinced I become that one of the greatest honors we can confer on other people is to see them as they are, to recognize not only that they exist, but that they exist in specific ways and have specific realities.”
While these three are so different in their talents, in their values, and in their choices – one thing that struck me was how consistently they were able to be humble in the face of such incredible amounts of intention. Each of them chose a completely different medium to approach the messages they wanted to send. Franklin chose music, Annan chose academics and politics, and Naipaul chose the written word. How different they might have turned out if someone hadn’t nurtured those skills as they grew. To me, it’s an important reminder that among our 6,000 students, we have the next musician, the next politician and the next author to change the course of Zambia over the next decades.
[*My favorite is actually “Don't say Aretha is making a comeback, because I've never been away!”]