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University community mourns death of Mandela Washington Fellow; memorial gathering scheduled Wednesday

June 27, 2016

John Paul Ojoajogwu Usman. Courtesy of IREX.

John Paul Ojoajogwu Usman
John Paul Ojoajogwu Usman.

Editor's note: The Virginia Tech community is invited to attend a memorial gathering to celebrate the life of John Paul Ojaojogwu Usman at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday, June 29, at the Alumni Assembly Hall at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. The memorial will be live-streamed on the university's YouTube account.

The university community is saddened by the death of John Paul Ojaojogwu Usman, 23, of Nigeria, who was taking classes at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute as a participant in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

Usman died Saturday after falling into the water on a hike to Cascade Falls in Giles County, about 30 minutes from Blacksburg.  

“Our thoughts are with John Paul’s family in this difficult time. We are devastated by this tragic event,” said Don Back, director of the Language and Cultural Institute. “John Paul was a very caring young man, quite accomplished as a youth mentor despite his young age.  His interest was in peace building.  He was so proud to be here and a joy to have in class. Upon completion of the fellowship, he planned to continue training young people in ethics, civics, and leadership in Nigeria.”

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. It was launched to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa.

The Language and Culture institute was selected to host 25 fellows, representing 21 countries, this summer for six weeks of classes. Eighteen fellows were together on a group outing to hike to the Cascades Saturday, accompanied by two staff members from the institute.

The program is administered by IREX, an international non-profit working with the U.S. State Department.  

The U.S. Mission to Nigeria released a statement of sympathy.    

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