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Nelson Mandela’s Legacy

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,”
–Nelson Mandela

Yesterday, the world recognized the death of Nelson Mandela with tributes from leaders of the world, leaders in his homeland of South Africa, and citizens everywhere. It would be hard to imagine anyone over the age of 18 who does not know who Mr. Mandela was. Imprisoned for treason during the apartheid era in South Africa, Mr. Mandela spent 27 years behind bars until his release in 1990. Four years later, he was elected as the first black president during South Africa’s first multi-racial elections in April 1994. The subsequent transition of power was peacefully accomplished thanks to his leadership.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to visit South Africa with a group of my doctoral classmates from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. We visited the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape, and the University of Pretoria to see how South Africa’s higher education system had adapted to change. We also visited major cities and the surrounding countryside to see firsthand life in South Africa 15 years after the end of apartheid. Prior to the trip, I read Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.” The book provided me with a perspective on the conditions in South Africa during Mandela’s life up to his 1994 election as president. It enlightened my visits to Robben Island (the notorious prison off of the coast of Cape Town), the District Six Museum in Cape Town, the Soweto township in Johannesburg, and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.

No matter whom I talked to during my trip, his or her respect for Mr. Mandela was universal even 10 years after his single term as president had ended. Whether it was a guide at Robben Island who had been imprisoned there at the same time as Mr. Mandela, or a museum volunteer, all were uniform in their praise for his leadership during an uncertain and unprecedented time of transition. I left the country with a better sense of the challenges during apartheid, during the first few years after Mr. Mandela’s release, and during his time as president. The educators I met with at the universities provided me with their perspectives on the difficult task of education for all—particularly those who had received substandard elementary and high school educations. Mr. Mandela’s party had rewritten the law to provide for equal education, but acknowledged that the process would take years to complete.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,”
is one of Nelson Mandela’s most frequently quoted statements. I hope that his legacy and memory provides others with the motivation to improve education in their communities and countries.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mandela.



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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