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Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Address Graduates at May 9 Commencement

Published: March 30, 2009
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and known as Africa’s “Iron Lady,” will give the commencement address at The University of Tampa’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 9. She will also receive an honorary doctorate in humane letters.

Sirleaf was the first woman to lead an African nation when she was elected president of Liberia in 2005. She is a leading promoter of peace, justice and democratic rule, and in 2007 was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 2006, Forbes magazine named her the 51st most powerful woman in the world.

"We are very pleased to have such an influential world leader help us celebrate a new wave of future leaders at commencement," said UT President Ronald L. Vaughn. "Her emphasis on human rights, global understanding and personal freedom complements UT’s mission of educational excellence. This will certainly be one of the most exciting and memorable UT commencements in our history."

As president, Sirleaf has identified four pillars in support of Liberia’s development agenda: peace and security, economic revitalization, governance and the rule of law, and basic infrastructure and services. She became president only two years after Liberia emerged from a brutal civil war that claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced a third of the population.

Prior to being elected Liberia’s president, Sirleaf served various civic and international financial positions, including chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission, director of the UN Development Programme Regional Bureau for Africa, vice president of the Africa Regional Office of Citibank, vice president and member of the executive board of Equator Bank in Washington, D.C. and as Liberia’s minister of finance.

Sirleaf, who was imprisoned in the 1980s for criticizing the military regime of Samuel Doe and twice was forced into exile, is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, and a founding member of the International Institute for Women in Political Leadership.

Sirleaf attended the College of West Africa in Central Monrovia, and holds a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. She has received seven honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the world, and recently published a memoir, titled “This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President” (Harper, 2009).

David A. Straz Jr., a member and past chair of the UT Board of Trustees who also serves as honorary consul to Liberia, was instrumental in securing Sirleaf’s visit.

“President Sirleaf is an inspiring leader and role model who I’ve known for several years,” Straz said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for UT graduates to experience and learn from a world leader who has successfully brought peace and stability to her country.”

The UT commencement will be held at 10 a.m. on May 9 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.