New student escaped war in Liberia

Many GW students study international conflicts, but junior Morris Sheriff is escaping one.

The 25-year-old Liberian immigrant left his home country amid a civil war that destroyed his family and his homeland in 2003, and is now a new transfer student at GW. Sheriff had not finished high school when he came to America, but he later completed his general equivalency degree and pursued an accounting degree at a community college.

“During 14 years of civil war, all of a sudden there would be shootings and school was interrupted,” Sheriff said of his homeland. “It was no place to talk about education; we were talking about how to survive and eat.”

Sheriff’s family and his tribe – the Mandingo – were persecuted for their political affiliations and involvement in business and the community, he said. He is the only member of his family to come to the United States.

The Immigration Law Project at Safe Horizon, a human rights organization, helped Sheriff and his mother escape on the back of a pickup truck in the middle of the night to a neighboring country. Despite the hardships of his past, Sheriff said he is looking to the future, especially the ability to attend school without worrying about his daily survival.

“I don’t want to stop making my life better,” he said. “I want to use my education to better myself and better people around me.”

Sheriff said he created a club at the Borough of Manhattan Community College which encouraged community by having events for the about 6,000 members on weekends and evenings. They also had seminars, he said, on how to meet with deans, dress successfully and embrace globalization.

“We used to believe that we were born in Liberia and we never thought about leaving it,” Sheriff said. “It was a land of liberty and we thought life was good because we got to go to school.”

He added “I am not going to sit and think about Africa. Having been through war, I put serious value on life. We are the next generation, and we must tackle it with energy and hope.”

Sheriff is currently enrolled in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and said he plans to study political science and economics at GW. He said he also hopes to create a program similar to the one he pioneered at BMCC. He said he strongly supports a close connection between the administration and students.

“The administrators always stopped and talked with students at BMCC,” he said. “I want there to be a mother and daughter or father and son relationship between the administration and students so we can understand how the administration thinks.”

International students comprise 10 percent of the University’s student body and represent more than 125 countries, according the GW admissions office. Kathryn Napper, executive director of undergraduate admissions, said a few students from Liberia have attended GW in the past.

Sheriff said he is excited for the opportunity to come to D.C.

“I was reading about the recent graduation at GW and a speaker said students should use themselves to change world,” Sheriff said. “My goal is to learn more and reach out and bring my country on the map. Everyone can become great and I hope to leave my legacy in D.C.”

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