Newswise — Often referred to as "The Iron Lady" by political supporters, Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first Black woman president of Liberia, will address the Spelman College Class of 2007 at 4 p.m., Sunday, May 20, at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Decatur, Ga. President Johnson-Sirleaf will also receive an honorary degree.
Dr. Ruth J. Simmons, president of Brown University, and Elaine R. Jones, the first woman to lead the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, will also receive honorary degrees. Dr. Gary Orfield, founder of the Harvard Civil Rights Project, will receive the National Community Service Award.
"The more than 500 graduates who have each made a choice to change the world by attending Spelman College will be inspired by the powerful sentiments of a woman who is only the second black female head of state in the world," said President Beverly Daniel Tatum. "Her unwavering resolve—to heal war-ravaged Liberia, educate its women and girls, shore up its deflated economy, rehabilitate ex-rebels, reconcile with former combatants—is the substance that this year's graduates hope to embody as they venture forward into their lives beyond the gates of Spelman College."
Addressing serious issues affecting the women of Liberia straight on—illiteracy, abject poverty, sexual violence/domestic abuse, political disenfranchisement—is a major part of Johnson-Sirleaf's vision to restore her beloved country. This is poignantly illustrated by the special promise she made during her inaugural speech earlier this year: "This administration must endeavor to give Liberian women prominence in all affairs of our country. We will empower all Liberian women in all aspects of our national life"¦. We will enforce without fear of failure the laws against rape. We will encourage all families to educate all children, especially the girls."
Recently returning from a trip to Canada seeking support and aid, President Johnson-Sirleaf has launched a global campaign to solicit funds for her debt-ridden country. Faced with the daunting challenge of not only reducing the nation's substantial financial debt, she also must stomp out corruption, investigate human rights abuses and war crimes, and foster goodwill among surrounding countries that are former enemies.
Dr. Simmons, the 18th president of Brown University, was distinguished by TIME magazine as "America's Best College President." She is also a former provost of Spelman College. Ms. Jones is the first woman graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and the first African American member of the American Bar Association's Board of Governors. Additionally, Jones is president and director-counsel, emeritus of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc., which she served for three decades before stepping down in 2004. Dr. Orfield is cofounder of the Civil Rights Project and has written several books, including Racial Inequity in Special Education and Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. He is a staunch advocate for educational access and has been a leader among social scientists in defending affirmative action.
For more information about the Spelman College 120th Commencement ceremony, go to http://www.spelman.edu/commencement.
ABOUT SPELMAN:Founded in 1881, Spelman College is the only historically Black college in the nation to be included on the U.S. News and World Report's list of top 75 "Best Liberal Arts Colleges — Undergraduate," 2005. Located in Atlanta, Ga., this private, historically Black women's college boasts outstanding alumnae, including Children's Defense Fund Founder Marian Wright Edelman; U.S. Foreign Service Director General Ruth Davis; authors Tina McElroy Ansa and Pearl Cleage and actress LaTanya Richardson. More than 83 percent of the full-time faculty members have Ph.D.s or other terminal degrees and the student-faculty ratio is 12:1. Annually, nearly one-third of Spelman students receive degrees in the sciences. The students number more than 2,186 and represent 43 states and 34 foreign countries. For more information regarding Spelman College, visit: http://www.spelman.edu.