Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago, Illinois, June 14, 2013. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) (John Gress/Reuters)

Hillary Rodham Clinton paid tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela on Friday morning, calling the late South African leader "a giant among us."

Clinton, who said she first met Mandela in 1992 and visited him several times over the years, including as secretary of state, noted Mandela's commitment not just to bringing democracy and freedom to his beloved South Africa but first to bringing freedom to himself.

"I was always struck by the extraordinary depth of his self-knowledge, of his awareness about how hard it is to live a life of integrity, of service, but to combine within one's self the contradictions that he lived with — a lawyer and a freedom fighter, a prisoner and a leader, a man of anger and of forgiveness," Clinton said.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton told the story of former South African president Nelson Mandela's inauguration on Friday, the morning after his death. (Associated Press)

Clinton recalled attending Mandela's inauguration ceremonies as first lady and having lunch with him at the president's house. She described how he invited his prison guards to the festivities and, as he looked out at a large crowd of global dignitaries, he pointed out that he was most grateful that his jailers were there.

"His example demonstrated unequivocally how each of us can choose how we will respond to those injustices and grievances, those sorrows and tragedies, that afflict all of human kind," Clinton said.

Clinton spoke about Mandela at an awards ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, where she accepted the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize for her work championing women's rights and Internet freedom.

Clinton was hailed as "a modern-day superwoman" by a daughter of Lantos, the late congressman. Former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright also spoke, lavishing Clinton with praise. Albright noted Clinton's watershed 1995 women's rights speech in Beijing, adding, "She has shattered almost every glass ceiling in her way."