Director-General of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to deliver Class of 2022 Commencement address

Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and first African leader of the WTO

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala MCP ’78 PhD ’81, director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), will speak at the 2022 OneMIT Commencement Ceremony on Killian Court May 27.

Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and first African leader of the WTO after taking office in March 2021. She served as Nigeria’s finance minister from 2003–06 and 2011–15, as well as foreign minister in 2006; she was the first woman to hold both positions.

Okonjo-Iweala is also an alumna of MIT, having graduated with a Master of City Planning in 1978 and a PhD in regional economics and development from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning in 1981. She earned her undergraduate degree in economics from Harvard University in 1976. 

“Being honored as the 2022 Commencement speaker of my beloved alma mater, MIT, brings me great joy,” Okonjo-Iweala told MIT News.

James Poterba, professor of economics and chair of the Commencement Committee, told MIT News that Okonjo-Iweala’s “career shows by example how the tools acquired in the halls of MIT can be deployed to improve the human condition.”

President of the Graduate Student Council, AJ Miller G, added that Okonjo-Iweala is “an incredible example of the positive impact our alumni have on the world today.”

In addition to serving as director-general of the WTO, Okonjo-Iweala is an African Union Special Envoy to mobilize international financial support for the fight against COVID-19 and World Health Organization Special Envoy for Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

Okonjo-Iweala is an expert in global finance, economics, and international development, having worked as a development economist at the World Bank for 25 years. From 2007 to 2011, Okonjo-Iweala was managing director of operations at the World Bank, responsible for its portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia. While at the World Bank, Okonjo-Iweala worked on initiatives to assist low-income countries and raised $49.3 billion in grants and credit for the world’s poorest countries.

President L. Rafael Reif told MIT News that students on the Institute’s Commencement Committee “were eager” for MIT to “seek someone with high moral character and a demonstrated commitment to societal impact.”

“As a groundbreaking pioneer of change, Okonjo-Iweala shines and serves as an ideal role model to all who prioritize gender parity and equitable policies,” Danielle Geathers ’22, Undergraduate Association president, added.

President of the Class of 2022 Council Temi Omitoogun ’22 told MIT News that “after so many tough years, it will be nice to hear from someone who shows some of the heights that we can reach given the foundation of our MIT experience.”

Previously, Okonjo-Iweala addressed candidates at the 2016 Doctoral Hooding Ceremony; in her speech, she spoke on issues including economic inequality, climate change, access to water, and new health problems.

Okonjo-Iweala will speak at the OneMIT Commencement Ceremony on the morning of May 27, following the Advanced Degree Ceremonies taking place on May 26 and prior to the Bachelor’s Degree Conferral taking place on Briggs Field on the afternoon of May 27. 

Recent Commencement speakers include civil rights lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson (2021) and retired Navy four-star admiral William McRaven (2020), who both gave their speeches virtually during webcast Commencements. The last Commencement speaker to deliver their address at an in-person ceremony was politician and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg (2019), who was preceded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (2018) and Apple CEO Tim Cook (2017).

Update 2/17/22: A previous version of this article wrote that the Bachelor's Degree Conferral would take place the afternoon of May 28. The article has been updated to reflect that the conferral will take place the afternoon of May 27.