EMU alum, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee to receive honorary doctorate of justice

Leymah GboweeOn the occasion of its 100th commencement ceremony, Eastern Mennonite University announces that the 2018 address will be given by alumna and 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee.

In recognition of her extraordinary achievement in peacebuilding and social justice work, EMU will award Gbowee its inaugural honorary Doctor of Justice degree.

The ceremony is Sunday, May 6, at 1 p.m. on the front lawn.

“We are thrilled that our own graduate, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee, will offer the commencement address in our centennial year, and on behalf of the EMU Board of Trustees, I look forward to the honor of bestowing upon her our first honorary doctorate of justice,” said President Susan Schultz Huxman.

Gbowee “is a world-wide ambassador for justice and women’s advocacy, a real peace rockstar whose own heroic efforts in her home country of Liberia helped to bring its civil war to end,” Schultz Huxman said. “As her inspirational work and message continue to be shared around the world, she is most deserving of this recognition from her alma mater.”

“It is fitting, given our century-long history and our national and international renown for peacebuilding education, that our first honorary doctorate be given for outstanding work in the field of peace and justice,” said Provost Fred Kniss. “Leymah is a most deserving recipient.”

Gbowee earned a master’s degree in conflict transformation from EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) in 2007.

Gbowee’s involvement in the peace movement began in the late 1990s, when she began volunteering with a trauma healing program in Liberia’s war-torn capital, Monrovia. Within a few years, Gbowee had become a leader of a grassroots women’s movement, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. Using demonstrations, sit-ins and other nonviolent tactics, the group eventually forced the country’s warring factions to negotiate and sign a peace agreement in 2003.

For her work in mobilizing women to help stop the Liberian Civil War, she shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female African head of state, and Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni peace activist.

Gbowee currently serves as executive director of the Women, Peace and Security Program at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. She is the founder and current president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa.

Connected to EMU

Since earning her degree, Gbowee has been a staunch supporter of her alma mater, most notably through her contributions to a groundbreaking program designed to build capacity and skills of women peacebuilders.

In 2011, Gbowee joined other female peacebuilding leaders from around the world for a consultation that laid the foundation for CJP’s Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program. Since 2012, fifty women from the South Pacific and Africa have earned graduate certificates in peacebuilding leadership and made great impacts in their local and regional areas.

Also in 2011, months before being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Gbowee returned to EMU to be recognized as the Alumna of the Year.

She delivered her first commencement address at EMU in 2014, when her oldest son Joshua Mensah graduated with a degree in digital media. Gbowee has said that she chose EMU because she wanted him to go to a Christian college that emphasizes community and peacebuilding.

Her most recent visit to campus, in 2015, was to support the International Student Organization’s fundraising activities dedicated to the Ebola outbreak.

Peace and women’s rights advocate

Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist, trained social worker and women’s rights advocate. She currently serves as executive director of the Women, Peace and Security Program at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

She is the founder and current president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, the founding head of the Liberia Reconciliation Initiative, and co-founder and former executive director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa. She is also a founding member and former Liberian Coordinator of Women in Peacebuilding Network/West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, known more commonly by the acronyms WIPNET and WANEP. She travels internationally to advocate for human rights and peace and security.

Gbowee’s leadership of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace brought together Christian and Muslim women in a nonviolent movement that played a pivotal role in ending Liberia’s civil war in 2003. She has written a memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, and is featured in the award-winning documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

Gbowee was awarded honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Rhodes University in South Africa and the University of Alberta in Canada.

She advises numerous organizations working for peace, women’s rights, youth, and sustainable development, and has held distinguished fellowships at Barnard College and Union Theological Seminary.

In 2016, Gbowee was awarded the Lifetime Africa Achievement Prize for Peace in Africa by the Millennium Excellence Foundation. She serves as a Sustainable Development Goals Advocate for the United Nations and as a member of the World Refugee Council. In 2017, she was selected by the United Nations Secretary General to serve as a member of United Nations Secretary-General’s High Level Advisory Board.

She is the proud mother of six children.

Story by Lauren Jefferson

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