CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman and first African to lead the World Trade Organization, has been named the keynote speaker at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s spring commencement, the school said Thursday.

Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and MIT alumna, will address graduates at a campus ceremony May 27.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif said students wanted a speaker “with high moral character and a demonstrated commitment to societal impact.”

“At every step of her extraordinary career — whether addressing issues of poverty, hunger, vaccination or trade — Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has lived and breathed those values,” Reif said.

In a statement, Okonjo-Iweala credited MIT for helping her get where she is today.

“From the warm and caring welcome of the International Students Office on my first day of graduate school in 1976, to my tough but equally caring doctoral dissertation committee that propelled me to graduation in 1981, my memories of my time at MIT are spectacularly positive,” she said.


Okonjo-Iweala, 66, on Monday was named director-general of the World Trade Organization, which deals with the rules of trade between nations based on negotiated agreements.

She was Nigeria’s finance minister twice and briefly served as its foreign minister. She had a 25-year career at the World Bank, rising to the No. 2 position and overseeing $81 billion in development financing in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.

Okonjo-Iweala received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University before earning a master’s from MIT in 1978 and a doctorate in 1981.

She follows other MIT commencement speakers including lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson, retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral William McRaven and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.