Madame President Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia

Last Thursday, we had the unprecedented privlege of hosting a world leader, Madame President Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia, on our campus. After all, it’s not every day you host a  Nobel-Peace Prize winner at school. It was a monumental and joyous occasion. As one of our seniors said with utmost sincerity, “This is the biggest and best thing that we have ever had at Brookstone!  It was amazing!”

And it was. It was such an honor to have her visit, but even more so to hear her speak. Filled with wisdom, encouragement and humor beyond expectations, her words were both humbling and inspirational to students and faculty alike.

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Lower and Intermediate School students lined the Quad holding American and Liberian Flags as she made her way to the Turner Center.

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Madame President is escorted to the Turner Center by Cindy and Jay Sparks.

Brookstone has a long history with the country of Liberia, having partnered with the Ricks Institute through our servant leadership department for years. Not only have many of our students and staff traveled to Liberia to visit, but we have had many exchange students come and live with our families as well.

Luke Mansour, Class of 2010, was one of the first groups of Brookstone students to travel to Liberia. He was one of the guest speakers in the program and spoke directly to our students.

I am sure each of you realizes what a great opportunity it is to attend a school like Brookstone. The experiences that I was afforded here have had tremendous impact on me as I pursued my education and began my professional career.

A highlight of my Brookstone experience was a trip to Ricks Institute. We were one of the first groups of high school students to travel to Liberia following the 14 year civil, war which ended in 2003. The focus of our trip was first and foremost that of service. We worked alongside students from Ricks Institute to perform many activities; from implementing reading programs with younger students, presenting cultural exchange ideas with older students, and even painting the gymnasium. In addition, we toured Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and had the extraordinary opportunity to meet Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia. The trip was a very important time in my life, giving me a world view I could not have grasped solely from my studies.

During this trip I was able to form a special relationship with Samurai Sarnor, a 14 year old boy from a neighboring village. Samukai had been selected to attend Brookstone School as an exchange student and would be living with my family. Samukai’s positive attitude and drive was, and is, amazing. He taught me that no matter how difficult the circumstances you find yourself it is important to realize you are blessed if you have the opportunity to learn and grow in mind, body, and spirit. Samukai, has continued to do that in the years since we first met.

Samukai Sarnor has maintained a close relationship with Brookstone ever since he was a student here. What a treat it was to have him join us from Mercer University for this occasion. After Luke’s  introduction, Samukai addressed the President directly.

Madam President, I along with a group of fellow Brookstone students, had the opportunity to meet with you in your office, where you graciously gave us the chance to present you with questions. When I asked about the advantage of attending school, you advised:

1. Go to school
2. Stay in school
3. Work hard
4. Do the best we can
5. Go as far as we can go
6. Reach our doctorate level
7. Get as much education as we can get to become good leaders

I have had the good fortune to do that by attending Brookstone school as an exchange student, graduating from Ricks Institute, attending Cuttington University, and earning a scholarship to study at Mercer University here in the United States.

I am now a senior at Mercer and will graduate with two majors: Economics and Finance, and a minor in Information Science and Technology. I will return to Liberia next year to serve at Ricks Institute for two years. My hope is to continue to take your advice by furthering my education with studying for my masters and other advanced degrees.
Thank you for your advice to me and my fellow Brookstone students and for your strong
leadership of our country, Liberia.

Samurai’s future plans were applauded by all. And his returning to Liberia to teach the next generation of young Liberians is exactly what Madame President Sirleaf is so passionate about.

The program was even streamed online by our student broadcast team, Cougar Live, so that our friends at Ricks Institute were able to see the President speak as well. Dr. Olu Menjay, the Chief Administrator, as well as the principal, was able to watch the event in real time all the way in Liberia.

President of the Republic of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf takes the stage to speak with students and faculty Thursday at Brookstone School. Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state on the African continent, and she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011for her nonviolent work for the safety of women, and for women's rights and participation in peace-building efforts.

Madame President addresses the Upper School students and faculty. The rest of the school was able to watch the live feed from their classrooms.

President of the Republic of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf speaks with students and faculty Thursday at Brookstone School. Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state on the African continent, and she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011for her nonviolent work for the safety of women, and for women's rights and participation in peace-building efforts.

It’s not every day you have a Q and A session with a sitting president. Madame President’s answers were both inspiration, delightful and challenging.

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Snap shots from the occasion…from bottom left…Marty Lester, Head of School, welcomes Madame President to the stage. Samukai Sarnor with Tiffany Grier, a friend from his time as a Brookstone student, Stephanie Hunter, past chairman of the Brookstone Board of Trustees and senior, Will Byrd present her with a gift from the school, and lastly, Sam posing for pictures with his president – a day he will never forget.

After she addressed the crowd, she settled down for a question and answer session with students. She spoke of her faith, her time in prison, her Nobel Peace-Prize, and her passion for education, among other things. She also laid out some practical challenges for our students: work hard and dream big. “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough,” she said.

The day was truly memorable for all involved, as evidenced by the outpouring of enthusiasm by students, faculty and parents alike.

Dee Dee Branham, Upper School science teacher said, “Having been privileged enough to travel to Liberia in 2011 with a Brookstone Service Team, I was honored and amazed to meet such an incredible woman.  She is an example for all women to follow. I was honored and humbled to have gotten to meet her!”

One of our parents, Kim Drew, said, “I call these ‘Brookstone Days.’ Those times when all the checks written and all the sacrifices made are MORE than worth the experiences in return. What an amazing day!”

Upper School Science teacher Cynthia Lingo said, “This will definitely go down as one of my best Brookstone memories! What a brave woman.”

Our Middle School French teachers, Elizabeth Thorne agreed. She said, “It was well worth the sacrifice of French teaching time for Liberian teaching time.”

Lower School art teacher Deana Graham said, “Yesterday was a special day, to be sure. President Sirleaf was inspiring and engaging, and I can’t believe my kids were fortunate to hear her in person and shake her hand! I’m grateful for the many ways that Brookstone teaches us all about the people all over this world.”

We are all grateful – grateful for our partnership with Ricks Institute, grateful for the opportunities Brookstone gives us, and grateful to have to welcomed such a gracious, inspirational and transformative world leader to Brookstone School. Madame President Sirleaf, we hope you will visit again soon.

To read the featured article from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, click here.

 

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