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.

Sub topics

You might also like

Using the Law for Good

2024 Radcliffe Medalist Sonia Sotomayor on civic engagement and optimism

Equality and Justice

A Radcliffe Day panel discusses pluralism and progress. 

Close Call

Ending a tumultuous year, Harvard tradition is served in the 373rd Commencement—with plenty of thunder from the stage.

Most popular

Harvard Corporation Rules Thirteen Students Cannot Graduate

Faculty of Arts and Sciences May 20 vote on protestors’ status does not confer “good standing.”

AWOL from Academics

Behind students' increasing pull toward extracurriculars

Harvard Confers Six Honorary Degrees

Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, conductor Gustavo Dudamel, President emeritus Larry Bacow among those recognized

More to explore

Bernini’s Model Masterpieces at the Harvard Art Museums

Thirteen sculptures from Gian Lorenzo Bernini at Harvard Art Museums.

Private Equity in Medicine and the Quality of Care

Hundreds of U.S. hospitals are owned by private equity firms—does monetizing medicine affect the quality of care?

Sasha the Harvard Police Dog

Sasha, the police dog of Harvard University