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