A Profile on Bronx Science’s Special Guest Graduation Speaker, UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Linda Thomas-Greenfield is the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and she will deliver a speech during Bronx Science’s 95th Commencement Ceremony at the United Palace Theater on Friday, June 23rd, 2023.


Photo used by permission of Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield “reinforces President Biden’s commitment to restore and expand American leadership on the global stage,” as noted by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

On Friday, June 23rd, 2023, during Bronx Science’s 95th Commencement Ceremony, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield will deliver a speech as a Special Guest at our ceremony. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s decades-long illustrious career is characterized by her perseverance, dedication, and service to her country. 

On January 20th, 2021, Linda Thomas-Greenfield was nominated by President Biden to be the Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations and in the Security Council of the United Nations. Culminating her thirty-five year career that has led her on a diplomatic odyssey everywhere from Liberia to Switzerland to Kenya, she was decisively confirmed by the United States Senate and sworn in by Vice President Harris in February 2021. 

During her confirmation hearing, she conveyed her bold vision, energizing spirit, and unwavering determination as she declared, “When America shows up, when we are consistent and persistent, when we exert our influence in accordance with our values, the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace, security, and our collective well-being.” Now, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is wielding her position with the United Nations as a crucial tool for facilitating the United States’ re-entry onto the global stage. 

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s prolific political career had humble beginnings. Born in Baker, Louisiana in 1952, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield was introduced to polarizing matters at a young age, in part through observing her local Peace Corps training center, which ultimately inspired her to pursue foreign service, and in part through her firsthand experience with discrimination. Growing up as a black woman in a formerly segregated town, as was characteristic of the Deep South in the 1950s, further opened her worldview to the realities of discrimination.

Despite such obstacles, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield persevered through high school and became the first from her family to graduate. Her mother did not attend school after eighth grade, and her father’s education ended in third grade, when he was thrown into the workforce without learning how to read or write. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield broke this pattern when in 1970 she graduated from the segregated Baker High School. In 1974, she graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, and in 1975 she earned a Master’s Degree in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin. 

After assuming a teaching position at Bucknell University and commencing a political science fellowship centered around the study of rice production in Liberia, she opted to take the Foreign Service exam instead of pursuing a lengthy Ph.D. dissertation. Eager to embody the selfless spirit at the heart of diplomatic work, she assumed a position as a consular officer at the American embassy in Jamaica in 1982. When he announced her appointment, President Biden declared that from the very beginning of career she earned the name of the “people’s ambassador,” one who was “willing to meet with anyone, an ambassador, a student, working people struggling to get by,  always treating them with the same level of dignity and respect.”

Following years spent working in embassies in Kenya, Gambia, and Nigeria, in 1994, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield went to Rwanda just as the Rwandan genocide was taking root. There, she faced a near death experience when she was mistaken by an unknown man for a Tutsi woman that he intended to kill. During her Ted Talk on March 5th, 2019, she explained how she used “the power of kindness and compassion” and talked to the man, eventually convincing him to let her live. She concluded that this encounter “changed my life forever.” 

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield continued to serve at more posts in Pakistan, Rwanda, and Switzerland. There, she displayed what Jeffrey Feltman, a former United Nations undersecretary, referred to as a “diplomatic approach with real human empathy and warmth.” Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield earned an appointment to be the American ambassador to Liberia, where she served from 2008 to 2012. 

She collaborated with the first female president of Liberia who was also the first woman ever elected as head of state in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirlief. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield declared that “She speaks our language. We know, with her, that good governance and corruption are being taken seriously…We know our dollars are being well spent. And then there’s the fact that she’s a woman – the first. We don’t want to see her fail.” Illustrating her desire to empower women in politics and conveying her passion for promoting liberal values internationally, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s work in Liberia enabled her to become the director general of the Foreign Service for a year. 

A year after her work in Liberia, she became the top United States diplomat for African affairs until 2017, when the Secretary of State at the time, Rex W. Tillerson pushed her out. There, she assisted in overseeing government responses to the Ebola breakout.  

Upon the conclusion of her work with the State Department, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield joined the Albright Stonebridge Group, spearheaded by Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State. The group aims to help global clients in navigating the complex dynamics of international law, markets, and geopolitical policies. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s post as leader of the Africa Practice for this firm granted her oversight of branches across the continent, ranging Ghana and Nigeria in the West, Ethiopia in the East, and down to South Africa. 

During this time, she was also named the inaugural Distinguished Resident Fellow in African Studies at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, and held this position until the spring of 2019. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield was the first person to ever hold this position at the Institute, and continued her involvement by teaching a graduate class surrounding conflict negotiation in South Sudan. “I look forward to continuing my discussions with students,” said Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, about her time with the university. In doing so, she was able to inspire future global leaders “about the many rewards of public service, and what it means to practice diplomacy.”

In 2015, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield received the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, and in 2017, she received the University of Minnesota Hubert Humphrey Public Leadership Award. During her acceptance speech, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said, “In the time in our history when many of our young people and future leaders are questioning on whether they want to serve, I would say there is no better time as your nation, and the world needs you.” In 2012, she received an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Liberia. And in 2018, she received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Wisconsin. 

On the heels of all of these awards, President Biden nominated Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations. She championed a philosophy known as “gumbo philosophy” based on the importance of relationships, noting that discussing multifaceted issues while making a gumbo sauce can lead to important breakthroughs. 

As ambassador to the UN, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has twice been responsible for leading the 15-member Security Council as president and announcing the body’s decisions, and she will chair the Security Council presidency again in August 2023. The presidency of the Security Council rotates every month to a different Security Council member. During her two terms thus far as the Security Council president, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has seized the opportunity to cement the United States as a formidable player on the international stage. 

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield faces a plethora of pressing challenges – climate change, world health, China’s rapid militaristic ascendancy, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield recognizes the power that the United Nations has to realize a vision of a more peaceful and prosperous world. “Russia’s war against Ukraine is an attempt at domination in its purest forms. This war tests the fundamental principles the UN was founded on…. Some say this is a cold war…. This is not a new cold war. This is not about a few countries. This involves all of us. This is about defending the UN charter. This is about peace for the next generation. This is about protecting the UN’s principles,” Greenfield declared in a speech in San Francisco.

Although Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield recognizes that the United Nations has historically “struggled with management, weaknesses, and bias,” she emphasizes the achievements of the organization, highlighting the fact that the Security Council and General Assembly have condemned Russia for their war crimes and imposed “severe costs on Russia for all its actions.” Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield heralds a new era of active engagement for American foreign policy. 

With regard to China, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is adopting a hardline stance. After receiving heavy criticism for delivering a speech at Savannah State University in which she outlined the benefits of increased cooperation with China for African nations, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield declared at her hearing that “There is no question that I am not at all naïve about what the Chinese are doing, and I have called them out on a regular basis.”

Her willingness to criticize the nation yet simultaneously acknowledge their possible involvement in bringing the developing world to the international stage is indicative of her skill as a diplomat. Both Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s direct involvement and commentary reveal that she operates not out of American interests, but with a genuine passion for assisting the global poor. Having come from a life of pervasive hardship herself, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and her paradigm of politically protecting the poor will have a long-lasting impact on foreign service. 

The entire Bronx Science community is thrilled to have the opportunity to hear Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s speech as a Special Guest at our 95th Commencement Ceremony at the United Palace Theater on Friday, June 23rd, 2023.

UPDATE: Click HERE to watch the video of Bronx Science’s 95th Commencement Ceremony at The United Palace Theater, which was held on Friday, June 23rd, 2023, including the speech given by Bronx Science’s Special Guest Graduation Speaker, UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

During her confirmation hearing, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield conveyed her bold vision, energizing spirit, and unwavering determination as she declared, “When America shows up, when we are consistent and persistent, when we exert our influence in accordance with our values, the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace, security, and our collective well-being.”