There are tons of news stories and tributes out there to read, watch or listen to - including this audio history from NPR. What I can contribute to the conversation is my own story.
The anti-Apartheid disinvestment campaign was going strong when I was in college, as was the song Free Nelson Mandela. A friend reminded me that some UCSB students went on a juice fast, which sounds silly but, according to Wikipedia, "University of California, in contrast to the limited action undertaken by Harvard, authorized the withdrawal of three billion dollars worth of investments from the apartheid state. Nelson Mandela has stated his belief that the University of California's massive divestment was particularly significant in abolishing white-minority rule in South Africa." So there.
I remember watching with the rest of the world as he became the first democratically elected leader of South Africa then won a Nobel Peace prize. The 46664 concerts, referencing his prisoner number, raised money for his various foundations and brought out a host of international stars.
Similar to Alcatraz in some ways, an island prison very near a vibrant port city, it was different in many others. Rather than just bank robbers, many of these inmates were political prisoners. Those that are still alive guide the daily tours of the island, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their focus is on reconciliation and bringing the country together in order to move forward.
Although not completely free of racial tensions, the spirit of Nelson Mandela could be felt as I traveled through South Africa. Practically every backpacker I met was reading Long Walk to Freedom, his autobiography which will soon be released as a movie, and he was a leader that most locals were happy to talk about with visitors.
Buzzfeed posted a list they call "15 of Nelson Mandela's Most Inspiring Quotes". Of all the ones they chose, my favorite is this:
Why not make today the day you start living the life you are capable of living?