Liberia’s President to Speak at Harvard Commencement

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female elected head of state, will address graduates and guests on May 26.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The University announced today that Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, M.P.A. ’71, will be the principal speaker during the afternoon exercises at Harvard's 360th Commencement, on May 26.

“Over the course of her nearly 40 years in public service, President Sirleaf has endured death threats, incarceration, and exile, all the while challenging the inequality, corruption, and violence that defined life in Liberia for so long,” Harvard president Drew Faust said. “We are proud to welcome such a respected African leader and active proponent of democracy to speak on Commencement Day.” 

Johnson studied economics and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School as an Edward S. Mason Fellow,  earning a master's in public administration in 1971. She returned to Liberia the next year and worked on civic reforms, in government and out, before being forced to flee a military coup, a pattern repeated twice more before she won election in 2005 as her nation’s twenty-fourth president, in the wake of the Second Liberian Civil War. "As Africa’s first female elected head of state," said Faust, Sirleaf "stands as an example for a generation of girls in Africa and beyond of the ways in which education opens new frontiers.”  

Read the official University announcement, or listen to President Sirleaf's 2008 graduation address at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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