We are here today to celebrate the life of Professor John Leonard. John was an original; he was his authentic self until the very last day of his life.
It takes a very brave person to be who you are, not to conform to what others want you to be. Courage is the capacity to share with your whole heart who you are with the world. That takes the deepest kind of bravery. They say the brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all. John lived, and he leaned into the discomfort of his work and his life; he never withdrew. John found his 'purpose place' at AUN – for John, Yola was paradise on earth, and the place where he wanted to live that brought him closest to his purpose in life. AUN was his purpose place. He lived, what American poet Mary Oliver called "his one wild and precious life" here with us in Yola.
In America, our bookstores are full of self-help books. You can buy any kind of book to help yourself – dieting, public speaking, romantic relationships, exercise, you name it, there is a book on it. America is known for the self-help movement. What is so fascinating about John is that by himself, he seems to have started his movement – that of 'other-help'. You will not find a section in a bookstore in the USA with books about 'other-help'. Yet, John lived his life to help others, he was the essence of other-help. He never turned down a request to teach an additional class, to give a public seminar, to help a student with tuition fees, to assist with medical bills, to attend a birthday party, or even the holiday party at my own house. I do not believe he knew the word 'no'. He was generous to a fault, it was his default position to help, he was outwardly focused and a role model for all of us in this regard. He gave selflessly, tirelessly, effortlessly. I am sure everyone speaking today will have a story about how John gave of his time, resources, and an empathic listening ear, and was the last person to give to himself. He was other-focused.
In the book, City of Joy, a poor rickshaw driver in Calcutta, India, named Hansari Pal, said, "All that is not given is lost." He is right – don't make the mistake of dying with the music still left inside of you, the words of affection not expressed, the gift intended not given.
Why did we love John so much? We loved John because he was present, every single day, with us at AUN. My question to each of you is now, "When are YOU going to show up and be present?" My answer is in the wisdom of finding your life's purpose – you will show up and be present when you are committed to a cause greater than yourself and greater than your lifetime. John was committed to AUN, a cause greater than himself and greater than his lifetime. Our best gift to honor John is to ensure AUN is sustainable for generations of students to come, long after we have gone. Please join me in this goal, as the African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together." Let's go together, to celebrate John, take his legacy forward, ensuring AUN is sustainable.
It is obvious that Heaven needed an Economist, so John's song on earth has ended, but his melody lingers on, and we will hear that melody today at our Memorial Service. When words are insufficient, only tears and laughter can express our hearts. I will end my words for John by borrowing words from spiritual author Ram Dass in his book, Be Here Now. Ram Dass says, "When all is said and done, we are just walking each other home." May we, Stallion Nation, forever hold hands and walk each other home. Rest in peace, Professor John Leonard, and may angels sing you to heaven.