Hundreds of people cheered, clapped and snapped pictures Saturday in the presence of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but most of the praise was not for the leader of the west African nation.
Instead, it was for the hundreds of graduates of North Cobb High School’s Class of 2006, including Sirleaf’s granddaughter, Jenelle Elsa Sirleaf.
For a couple of hours, the first democratically elected female head of state in Africa’s history took pleasure in being a proud grandmother. Smiling from her front row seat at Kennesaw State University, the president stood to salute Jenelle and applauded when the young woman accepted her diploma.
Principal Gary Boling took only a moment to recognize Sirleaf at the beginning of the program, mentioning her name in the same breath as school officials before recognizing the class salutatorian.
After the ceremony, Boling said he was honored to host the dignitary and proud of the United States’ relationship with Liberia, which was founded in 1847 by free blacks and former slaves from America.
Sirleaf is a 1971 graduate of Harvard University, where she earned a master’s degree in public administration.
Gladys Blackman of Philadelphia beamed with pride at Sirleaf as she waited to see her grandson, Derrick Lee Alexander Blackman, in his cap and gown.
“She’s a female, so I’m proud of her,” Blackman said. “She might bring another view to overcome some of her country’s problems.”
After being sworn in Jan. 16, Sirleaf inherited a war-ruined nation of 3 million that is among the world’s poorest.