President Johnson Sirleaf meets with local Liberians

Well-attended community event precedes Commencement address

By Mark L. Shelton and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

June 03, 2012

A capacity crowd of well-wishers greeted Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, at a community event organized by members of the local Liberian community on the occasion of her visit to Worcester. Johnson Sirleaf was at UMass Worcester to deliver the keynote address at the Medical School’s 39th Commencement exercises on Sunday, June 3.

Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th president of Liberia and the first elected female head of state in Africa.

At the event organized by UMMS and the Federation of Liberian Community Associations in Massachusetts, Sirleaf met with more than 200 members of the Liberian community at a reception in the Blais Pavilion of the Lazare Research Building, as final preparations in the Commencement tent took place on the campus green.

Chancellor Michael F. Collins welcomed Johnson Sirleaf to the campus, as did Joseph M. Petty, the mayor of the City of Worcester, and Joshua Bing, the president of the Liberian American Organization of Worcester County. Throughout the program—punctuated by song, traditional dances and musical interludes on traditional drums, members of the Liberian community took turns praising the president and asking questions significant to the future of Liberia and its relationship to the United States.

“President Johnson Sirleaf has demonstrated passionate commitment to hard work, integrity and good governance, advocating for the rights of women and the importance of education to provide a better future for her people,” said Yvonne Hoggard-Kamara, president of a Liberian American organization, the Federation of Liberian Community Associations of Massachusetts, in presenting a plaque to the president.

Born in Monrovia, Liberia, Johnson Sirleaf attended high school there at the College of West Africa before traveling to the United States to pursue her college studies. She earned a degree in accounting from Madison Business College in Madison, Wis., and continued her studies at the Economics Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She studied economics and public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, earning a master of public administration degree in 1971.

Her entry into politics came in 1972 when she delivered her now-famous commencement address to her high school alma mater in which she sharply criticized the government, showing her determination to speak truth unto power. This was the start of a distinguished professional and political career spanning nearly four decades.

Read about the event in the Telegram & Gazette: Liberian president welcomed at UMass ceremony

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Local Liberian community 'overjoyed' about Johnson Sirleaf visit
Commencement, part 1: 39th Commencement marks endings and beginnings
Commencement, part 2: UMMS faculty forge strong bonds with Liberia
Commencement, part 3: Honorary degrees strengthen Commencement tradition.
Commencement, part 4: Muthee personifies the American dream
Commencement, part 5: A wedding and a graduation for GSBS speaker Allison Keeler
Commencement, part 6: All in the family for SOM class speaker Ferguson