By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

On Tuesday, September 12, 2006, Clark Atlanta University conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree on Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female president. The award ceremony was attended by an estimated 1,900 people, which included the CAU family, a host of local dignitaries, corporate executives and the Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta (LAMA), headed by its President, Mrs. Sue Yancy-Williams.

The two historical institutions, Atlanta University (founded in 1865) and Clark Collage (founded in 1869) consolidated in 1988 to become Clark Atlanta University (CAU). CAU is the largest of the United Negro College Fund institutions. It has an enrollment of nearly 4,500 students. It is considered the only private, historically black college or university classified as a Research University. CAU is also ranked high among the best buys in American higher education by National business and consumer publications.

The Liberian President, now Dr. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was invited by the university to serve as the keynote speaker for its fall convocation.

The chairwoman of the university’s Board of Trustees, Juanita Baranco referred to President Johnson Sirleaf as “a strong symbol of courage, perseverance and leadership for men and women all over the world.” Another member of the Trustees highlighted that among the President’s achievements was – in 2006, Forbes magazine named her 51st in the list of the 100 most powerful women in the world.

During President Johnson-Sirleaf’s keynote address, she said, “I am deeply touched by the invitation and the honor bestowed upon me and my country. I am glad to be back in Atlanta,” she told the crowd. In May, President Johnson-Sirleaf came to Georgia to attend the high school graduation of her granddaughter, Jenelle Elsa Sirleaf of Acworth, Georgia.

In her address, she noted that the history of Clark Atlanta University and the history of Republic of Liberia were somewhat similar; Clark Atlanta University was established for educating “Negroes”, while Liberia was established for blacks seeking freedom. She stated that while the intent of establishing Liberia as a place of refuge for blacks was honorable, there were serious injustices that were done to the indigenous population, which eventually led to Liberia’s civil strive.  But in spite of these unfortunate circumstances, Liberians as a people, are determined that “Liberia indeed will rise again!”

She added that education and foreign investment are crucial to rebuilding the nation, which was devastated by the civil wars, and that the government is working to rebuild the schools that were destroyed and to educate Liberian young people, many of whom never attended school during the civil wars.

According to her, “No country in the world has ever developed without an educated work force. Those countries that function best have gender equity through equal access to education.”

She called on CAU and American leaders to help by providing scholarships for Liberians to study in America and to support such initiatives that will enable Americans to work and teach in Liberia.

Liberia is a country with long historical ties with the United States. It was established in the 1820s as a home of refuge for blacks who were declared undesirable, therefore, not needed in the United States. Today, the U.S. is the country’s top partner, responsible for restructuring the country’s army and security.

President Johnson-Sirleaf appealed to Atlanta’s business community that, the country’s “Open Door” policy and abundant natural resources, i.e., gold, diamonds, forests and iron ore could provide mutual benefits for investors as well as her country.

Published in the September 13, 2006 Edition of The Perspective.

2006: From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive