About 7.2 billion people make up our human family. Half of them live on $3 a day — less than what we pay for one cup of gourmet coffee.
Several of these people live in my home village in India — Chittilancheri. My parents both grew up in Chittilancheri without electricity, running water, or a college education. In one generation, the family’s fortunes shifted. My parents worked hard and created the opportunity for their four children to earn advanced degrees. My parents were just ordinary people.
Later in life, I learned the extraordinary impact that ordinary people can have yet again — this time from Oseola McCarty. Former President Bill Clinton had come to Google to speak and had given out copies of his book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, to employees.
When I read in Giving that Oseola McCarty had created her own scholarship at the University of Southern Mississippi, I thought, Surely she must be a very wealthy woman. Well, Oseola dropped out of school when she was 12 to care for her sick aunt. And for the next 75 years, the only job she had was washing and ironing other people's clothes.
She saved her modest income in a bank and, when she turned 87, she asked her bank manager how much money she had in her account. He answered, “Three hundred thousand dollars.” I imagine she must have said something like “Son, there are no shopping malls on the way to heaven. I want to create a scholarship so that girls from poor families can go to college.”
When news of Oseola’s decision was made public, local leaders funded an endowment in her honor, increasing her gift’s reach still more. Before she died four years later, USM’s most famous donor received acclaim and honors including the Presidential Citizens Medal — the United States’ highest civilian award — and honorary doctorates from USM and Harvard. Oseola McCarty was an ordinary person, and her resources at the outset were certainly limited. Yet she made an extraordinary impact on the world.