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DURHAM, N.C. — United States Ambassador to the Central African Republic Mattie R. Sharpless will serve as keynote speaker for North Carolina Central University’s Commencement ceremonies, May 10, 2003 at 9 a.m. in O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
“Ambassador Sharpless conducted a forum with some of our students last year and her words were so inspirational that we knew we had to have her come back to address the entire campus,” said Chancellor James H. Ammons. “NCCU is proud to have an alumna of her stature return to address her fellow eagles.”

Sharpless said that as the third oldest in a family of nine children, she never really thought of going to college, being from such a large, poor family and having lost her father at age eleven.

“However, in high school I acquired an interest in going to college, but I knew my poor mother, who had nine children to feed by cleaning houses and we, assisting with field work, probably would have no money to ever send any of us to college,” said Sharpless.

Nevertheless, Sharpless continued to study. Her prayers were answered in the form of a state scholarship and she decided to use it at North Carolina College. It was there that Ambassador Sharpless was first introduced to the diversity of different cultures as she made friends with the exchange students from Africa.

“My college experience was one of the most rewarding foundations of my adult years,” said Ambassador Sharpless. “It was just magnificent to be able to study in such a flourishing environment and on such a beautiful campus with the rolling hills and green, green surroundings.”

Ambassador Sharpless was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic (CAR) on October 23, 2001, in a magnificent ceremony, which launched her off to the ultimate achievement of her Foreign Service career.

“Serving as Ambassador to the CAR is both very challenging and rewarding” said Ambassador Sharpless. “The U.S. Mission plays a critical role in strengthening the political, economic, diplomatic, and cultural relations between the United States and the Central African Republic.”

In reaching out to all levels of the Central African Republic, Ambassador Sharpless traveled to many areas of the country and visited schools, churches, and businesses of the villages, with priority emphasis on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. She was also privileged that the Primary School in the Boussimba/Molangue Refugee Camp was named in her honor. However, due to political unrest in the Central African Republic over the past several months, Ambassador Sharpless and her staff have been monitoring U.S./CAR bilateral relations from headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Ambassador Sharpless has had a distinguished career in foreign agricultural trade relations, both in Washington and abroad, since joining the Foreign Agricultural Service in 1965. Prior to her appointment as Ambassador, she served as Acting Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) where she was responsible for overseeing and administering programs to expand export opportunities for U.S. agricultural and forest products, and to promote food security worldwide.

From July 1999 to January 2001, Ambassador Sharpless served as special envoy to emerging economies. In this role, she focused on the development of new markets, with particular emphasis on USDA’s initiatives to strengthen the economic partnership with Sub-Saharan Africa and its integration into the world trading system. In her foreign assignments, Ambassador Sharpless covered agricultural trade affairs in the American Embassies in Paris, France, Rome, Italy, and Bern Switzerland; at the U.S. Mission to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium; and at the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France.

A native of Hampstead, North Carolina, the daughter of the late James E. Sharpless, Sr. and Mrs. Lecola Shepard Sharpless, Ambassador Sharpless received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Education at North Carolina College (now NCCU) and her Master’s Degree in Business Administration and Economics from NCCU. She is the recipient of numerous performance awards and citations, including the prestigious Presidential Distinguished Service Award for 2001, the 1998 Presidential Meritorious Service Award, USDA’s Superior Honor Award, and the FAS/International Trade Policy 1989 Woman of the Year Award, among others.

Published: Thursday, May 01, 2003
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