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>  News Releases >   2008 >   April

Africa's first elected female president to be Dartmouth Commencement speaker

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 04/22/08 • Media Contact: Genevieve Haas • (603) 646-3661

Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to address graduates Sunday, June 8
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, will deliver the main address at Dartmouth College's 2008 Commencement exercises on Sunday, June 8, on the Dartmouth Green. She is also one of eight individuals who will receive honorary degrees at the event.

Johnson-Sirleaf, known as Africa's "Iron Lady," is a leading promoter of peace, justice and democratic rule. In November 2005, she was elected President of Liberia and became the first woman to lead an African nation. The Harvard-educated former World Bank economist won the election with an impressive 59.4 percent of the vote.

"President Johnson-Sirleaf's life-long commitment to the advancement of human rights and the spread of democracy has had a profound impact on her nation of Liberia, and it is an honor to have her as this year's commencement speaker. Her example is a powerful demonstration of the contributions that an individual can make and I know she will serve as an inspiration to Dartmouth students," said Dartmouth President James Wright, who will also speak at the event.

Also speaking will be the valedictorian of the undergraduate senior class, who is announced the week of commencement, after final grades are calculated.

The College typically awards approximately 1,000 bachelor's degrees and approximately 500 master's and doctoral degrees in the Arts and Sciences and from the College's three professional schools: Dartmouth Medical School, the Thayer School of Engineering and the Tuck School of Business.

The academic procession to the Green begins at 9:30 a.m., and visitors are advised to be in their seats by that time. Commencement ceremonies begin at 10 a.m.

At Commencement, Dartmouth will confer honorary degrees on:

  • Thomas R. Cech (Doctor of Science)
    Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and President, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

    Cech's research led to the discovery of self-splicing RNA, which was heralded as providing a new, plausible scenario for the origin of life. For this discovery of the catalytic properties of RNA, he was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he shared with Sidney Altman. Currently, he is president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which is the nation's largest private biomedical research organization.

  • Ada Deer (Doctor of Laws)
    Director of the American Indian Studies Program (retired), University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Deer's advocacy for Indian rights led to the successful campaign to restore federal recognition of the Menominee Tribe, and as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, she participated in the development of U.S. policies on international human rights and supported a strong national position on the rights of indigenous peoples everywhere.

  • Martin Feldstein (Doctor of Laws)
    George F. Baker Professor of Economics, Harvard University

    Feldstein is the CEO of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonprofit research organization that has specialized for more than 80 years in producing nonpartisan studies of the American economy. He served as President Reagan's chief economic adviser, and in 2006, President Bush appointed him to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In 1977, he received the John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association, a prize awarded every two years to the economist under the age of 40 who is judged to have made the greatest contribution to economic science.

  • Richard Hill '41, Tu'42 (Doctor of Laws)
    Former Chair and CEO of First National Bank of Boston
    Chairman Emeritus, Dartmouth College Board of Trustees

    Hill is a long-time leader in the Boston business community; in addition to his tenure as Chair and CEO of First National Bank of Boston, he has served as a director of United Fruit Corp., Ryder System, Boston Edison Co., John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., NYNEX (later Verizon) Corp., Polaroid Corp., and Raytheon Co. A graduate of Dartmouth and Tuck School of Business, Hill served for ten years on Dartmouth's Board of Trustees, including as chairman.

  • Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Doctor of Laws)
    President of Liberia

    Johnson-Sirleaf is a leading champion of peace, justice, and democratic rule. In November 2005, she was elected President of Liberia, becoming Liberia’s first woman president and the first democratically-elected woman to lead an African nation. The Harvard-educated former World Bank economist won the election with an impressive 59.4 percent of the vote.

  • Evelyn Fox Keller (Doctor of Science)
    Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science, Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of  Technology

    Keller's research focuses on the history and philosophy of modern biology and on gender and science. She is the author of several books, including A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1983), Reflections on Gender and Science (1985), The Century of the Gene (2000), and Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors and Machines (2002).

  • Ralph Manuel '58 (Doctor of Humane Letters)
    Former Dean of the College, Dartmouth College and Retired Head of Schools of the Culver Academies

    In 1962, Manuel became Dartmouth's assistant director of admissions, in which capacity he was responsible for the recruitment of minority students and served as a charter member of the Trustees' Committee on Equal Opportunity. In 1971, Manuel became director of Dartmouth's counseling center and associate dean of freshmen. The following year he was appointed dean of freshmen and welcomed Dartmouth's first coeducational class. In 1975, Manuel became the seventh dean of the college.

  • Cicely Tyson (Doctor of Arts)

    In 1962, Tyson became the first black actress to co-star in a television drama series, East Side-West Side. She has appeared in more than 70 films, televisions programs and series, for which she has received numerous honors, including three Emmy awards, an Oscar nomination, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Tyson has also devoted much time and effort to public service; she has served as the World Ambassador for UNICEF and is currently involved with Save The Children.

The Dartmouth Prize for Exceptional Teaching: A Celebration of Outstanding Elementary and Secondary Education

Also on Commencement Sunday 2008, Dartmouth will present the second annual "Dartmouth Prizes for Exceptional Teaching: A Celebration of Outstanding Elementary and Secondary Education." The College will present the awards to four K-12 teachers from around the country who were nominated by graduating Dartmouth seniors for their skills and the profound positive impact they have had on a great many lives, including those of the Dartmouth students who nominated them. The College will announce the names of the winners in a news release prior to Commencement.

Saturday, June 7: Speakers for Dartmouth professional schools' Class Day and Investiture ceremonies; and for Baccalaureate Service

A variety of ceremonies take place the day before Commencement, including Class Day and Investiture ceremonies for Dartmouth's three professional schools, and Baccalaureate, a multi-faith service open to all graduates and their guests. Those events and their speakers are:

  • Dartmouth Medical School: 11 a.m., Leede Arena. Speaker: Stephen J. Atwood, MD '68, DMS '70, Regional Advisor for Health and Nutrition for the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO)
  • Thayer School of Engineering: 10 a.m., Spaulding Auditorium, Hopkins Center. Speaker: Richard W. Couch '64  Th'65, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Hypertherm, Inc.
  • Tuck School of Business: 3 p.m., Tuck Circle. (In case of rain, Thompson Arena, same time.) Speaker: John Donahoe '82, President and CEO-elect of eBay Inc and Dartmouth College trustee
  • Baccalaureate: 3 p.m., Rollins Chapel. (Remote viewing in 105 Dartmouth Hall.) Speaker: Eboo Patel, Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core

Further information on commencement activities in general is available at

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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