Published: May 11, 2009
» Slide Show
the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, spoke to University of
Tampa graduates on May 9 at the St. Pete Times Forum, she urged them to
hang onto their dreams, despite the current economy.
willing at this junction to accept what’s available, and build upon your
skills while positioning yourself for that dream job, you’ll be better
prepared when the economy rebounds – and believe me, it surely will,”
Sirleaf’s own life story is a lesson in patience.
She pointed out that when she was the age of many of the graduates, she
was married, on her way to having four young sons and working various
Nonetheless, she attended college and was eventually
able to get a scholarship to study business at the University of
Wisconsin, Madison, where she waited tables to make ends meet. She later
had the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in public administration
from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
After living in
exile from her own country, Sirleaf ran for the presidency of Liberia in
2005, against several men. She became the first woman elected to the
presidency of an African nation.
“I went from being a desperate
housewife to become the president of my country,” she said, to a
cheering audience. “I hope that my own life can serve as an example and
an inspiration to you to never, never give up on your dreams.”
commented on the large number of women graduating, and urged them to
continue their education, so that they too could become leaders someday.
She also suggested that students perform public service and
urged them to work overseas, so they can share their knowledge and
experience with people who need so much and have so little. She also
said to consider jobs in healthcare or teaching, “two areas where UT
Sirleaf ended her speech similarly to how it started, urging the graduates to follow their dreams, just as she had.
“Hang on to that dream, hang on to those goals,” she said. “Be committed, be persistent, and you will get there.”
Jabari Bennett, who followed Sirleaf’s speech, challenged his fellow
graduates to exceed expectations, even though it may take patience.
Bennett, of Stone Mountain, Ga., spoke about success and the many ways
of defining it. “We, my friends, are tomorrow’s social engineers; we
hold success in our hands like clay, ready to mold the future for the
good of society.”
More than 1,000 students were in the graduating class of 2009, a record-breaking number for UT.
» Read the entire Sirleaf Commencement address. (PDF)