Liberian Ambassador to the U.S. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh encouraged the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s largest class of graduates to celebrate diversity and use their educations to become worldwide agents of change.
“Become global citizens and prepare to change our one world,” Sulunteh said Friday to the students, who responded to the ambassador’s nearly 20-minute address with a standing ovation.
Sulunteh was keynote speaker for UL-Lafayette’s spring commencement at the Cajundome for the record 1,641 students awarded bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.
It was Sulunteh’s second visit to Lafayette this year. He first visited the area in February to congratulate the work of fellow countryman Eric Wowoh, whose Lafayette-based nonprofit sends cast-off computers to Liberia to help better educate children in the impoverished nation of 4.1 million.
UL-Lafayette President E. Joseph Savoie described Sulunteh’s humble upbringings in a Liberian farm town, where he would later build elementary and junior high schools so younger generations would not have to walk 3 miles to the nearest school — as he did.
“The ambassador embodies, to me, the power of education to transform lives,” Savoie said.
Sulunteh, 56, repeated the theme “preparing global citizens and celebrating diversity” throughout his address, and he stressed the concept of “one world.”
Dressed in a cap and robe decorated with stark black-and-white stripes, Sulunteh called upon the class to think globally and make positive contributions to the “one world,” just as the U.S. and other nations sent citizens to battle the African Ebola outbreak that killed more than 4,700 in Sulunteh’s home country.
“Today, Liberia is declared Ebola-free,” he said, provoking a round of applause from the audience.
“Today, we can celebrate that global citizenship,” he added.
Fourteen UL-Lafayette students graduated this semester with 4.0 grade-point averages, including 23-year-old Chasah West, who earned recognition as the university’s first overall Outstanding Master’s Graduate for successfully pursuing three specializations in communications.
West, the daughter of missionaries, grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Lusaka, Zambia.
Twenty-four of 35 Golden Anniversary graduates from the class of 1965 led the student procession at 11 a.m. Friday before Sulunteh’s speech, and two alumni were recognized for celebrating 75 years since their graduation day — as two of their grandchildren on Friday earned their own degrees.
Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and her husband, former Vice President of Student Affairs Raymond “Coach” Blanco, also were recognized and seated onstage at Friday’s ceremony as they celebrated their daughter’s graduation in the master’s of business administration program.
The ceremony also marked the first graduating class from the university’s doctor of nursing practice program.
Sulunteh, who said he feels “a connection and at home” in Louisiana, served succeeding roles as minister of transport, telecommunications and labor under the administration of Liberia’s first democratically elected president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and was credited with major reconstruction efforts following the country’s civil wars that killed 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003.
He’s worked as an economics professor at two universities in Liberia and holds master’s degrees in economics and public administration. Sirleaf appointed him in 2012 as ambassador to the U.S.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.