Nobel Laureates at USF

Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi is the 13th Nobel laureate to visit USF. She joins an esteemed group of activists, politicians, lawyers, and spiritual leaders from five continents who have fought for political, social, and economic justice in and beyond their communities.
Click on the profiles below to learn more about each Nobel laureate.

Photography by Michael Collopy


Nobel Elie Wiesel

1986

Elie Wiesel

Romania/U.S.
1986 Nobel laureate

Elie Wiesel was just a teenager when he and his family were sent to German concentration camps during World War II. He endured starvation, forced labor, and beatings and lost his parents and younger sister. Wiesel has spent much of his adult life sharing his story and speaking out about the Holocaust and on behalf of victims of genocide and oppression. He has authored more than 50 books, including “Night,” a memoir about his experiences at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Visited USF before winning the Nobel Peace Prize

Nobel John Hume

1991

John Hume

Northern Ireland
1998 Nobel laureate

In 1969, long-simmering tensions between Northern Ireland’s predominantly Catholic nationalists and predominantly Protestant unionists over the country’s political status (then under British rule) turned violent. In the decades of conflict that followed, John Hume emerged as one of the country’s most prominent voices for peace—as head of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and as a member of the Northern Irish, British, and European parliaments. His tireless work led to the signing of a peace agreement between the unionists and loyalists in 1998.

Visited USF before winning the Nobel Peace Prize

Nobel Desmond Tutu

1995

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

South Africa
1984 Nobel laureate

Bishop Desmond Tutu grew up in a racially segregated South Africa in which the majority black population had limited educational opportunities and was not allowed to vote. Fearing the influx of Africans into white towns, the government also restricted the areas where black South Africans could live. As Bishop Tutu rose up the ranks of the Anglican Church’s hierarchy, he used his position of influence to draw the world’s attention to the injustices in apartheid-era South Africa, demanding crippling international sanctions against his homeland. Bishop Tutu played a critical role in bringing about the 1990 fall of apartheid.

Nobel Betty Williams

1995

Betty Williams

Northern Ireland
1976 Nobel laureate

In August 1976, the conflict in Northern Ireland hit tragically close to home for Betty Williams—when she witnessed the deaths of three children caught in the crossfire between British troops and a young nationalist from the Irish Republican Army. In response to the senseless tragedy, Williams organized a petition calling for an end to the violence and gathered more than 6,000 signatures. Along with the slain children’s aunt and another activist, Williams co-founded the Community of Peace People, a grassroots movement that organized marches and protests that drew tens of thousands of Catholics and Protestants to the streets to demand peace.

Nobel Mairead McGuire

1999

Mairead Corrigan Maguire

Northern Ireland
1976 Nobel laureate

Mairead Corrigan Maguire is the aunt of the three slain children whose deaths prompted her to co-found, along with Betty Williams and fellow activist Ciaran McKeown, the Community of Peace People, a grassroots peace movement in Northern Ireland (see Betty Williams).

Nobel Jody Williams

1999

Jody Williams

U.S.
1997 Nobel laureate

Until the 1990s, landmines were used in almost all armed conflicts around the world. The explosive traps have killed, blinded, burned, and destroyed the limbs of upwards of one million people. Through her work in Latin America, Jody Williams witnessed the devastating impact of landmines, inspiring her to launch the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a global network spread across about 100 countries. The campaign’s efforts led to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, signed by 125 nations, and a significant drop in landmine use.

Nobel Rigoberta Menchu

2000

Rigoberta Menchú

Guatemala
1992 Nobel laureate

Rigoberta Menchú was born and raised in a Quiché village in the mountains of Guatemala, in a close-knit, poor indigenous community. Like many rural peasants, her family was at the mercy of wealthy landowners and struggled to survive. They joined the land reform movement, and during Guatemala’s civil war, her father, mother, and brother were murdered by the military. Menchú also witnessed land confiscations and the massacre of Guatemala’s indigenous groups—fueling her commitment to fight for indigenous rights. A courageous activist, Menchú coordinated large demonstrations, organized peasant groups to resist military oppression, and became the voice of her people on the world stage.

Nobel Adolofo Esquivel

2001

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Argentina
1980 Nobel laureate

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel was already a well-known architect and sculptor when he founded Servicio Paz y Justicia, an organization that promotes nonviolent resistance and social justice in his native Argentina and around Latin America. At the time, Argentina was on the brink of a civil war, and in denouncing the violent tactics of both the left and the right, Pérez Esquivel made enemies on both sides. After the military overthrew the government in 1976, Pérez Esquivel spoke out and campaigned in defense of political prisoners and those kidnapped during Dirty War that followed. He himself was imprisoned and tortured for 14 months. Pérez Esquivel remains key advocate of human rights throughout Latin America.

Nobel Oscar Sanchez

2002

Oscar Arias Sánchez

Costa Rica
1987 Nobel laureate

When Oscar Arias Sánchez became president of Costa Rica in 1986, many of the nations in his Central American neighborhood had been engulfed in civil war for years. Shortly after taking office, he initiated regional peace talks. He held a joint meeting with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua to craft a roadmap for peace. His diplomatic efforts over the next year culminated in the “Arias Plan,” which laid out steps toward national reconciliation, free elections, and arms supply reduction, and in the signing of a peace accord by the five presidents.

Nobel Dalai Lama

2003

The 14th Dalai Lama

Tibet
1989 Nobel laureate

The spiritual and political leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama was 15 years old when China invaded his homeland in 1950. Nine years later, he was forced to flee across the border to India on foot after China’s brutal crackdown on a civilian uprising in Tibet. Since establishing a Tibetan exile community in Dharmsala, India, more than half a century ago, the Dalai Lama has championed nonviolent resistance to Chinese rule despite a willingness among many Tibetans to take up arms in the fight for independence. In his quest for peace and compromise, the Dalai Lama advocates a “middle way” approach with the Chinese government that would grant Tibet “meaningful autonomy” rather than full independence.

Nobel Shirin Ebadi

2005

Shirin Ebadi

Iran
2003 Nobel laureate

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, women judges were forced to resign from their positions, which the government considered unsuitable for women. Among those pushed out was Shirin Ebadi—one of Iran’s first female judges—who, despite formidable obstacles, went on to establish a legal practice. She took on sensitive cases, defending intellectuals, democracy and women’s rights activists, and other political dissidents, for which she received death threats. After the government banned her from practicing law (which was later overturned), she continued her work as a human rights activist, advocate for women and children, author, and founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Tehran.

Nobel Kim Daejung

2005

Kim Dae-jung

Korea
2000 Nobel laureate

When the Korean War ended in 1953, the border between the two Koreas was closed and all ties between the two countries were severed. After nearly half a century of disengagement, in 2000, then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung took a historic step to rebuild relations between the two Koreas. He flew to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The summit between the two heads of state led to the building of a joint industrial park as well as roads and railways connecting the two countries and to reunions between family members who had been separated for decades after the Korean War.

Nobel Aung Sang Suu Kyi

2012

Aung San Suu Kyi

Burma
1991 Nobel laureate

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Burmese independence hero Aung San, who is widely regarded as the father of modern Burma. It was his legacy that instilled in her a deep sense of duty to her country, which faltered for decades under a harsh military regime. Suu Kyi is the head of the National League for Democracy, the country’s leading opposition party, and has organized nationwide pro-democracy protests. She was a courageous, unfailing advocate of nonviolent resistance to the ruling junta, despite spending 15 years under house arrest. She is now a member of parliament in Burma and remains a symbol of hope and freedom in and beyond Burma’s borders.

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