WASHINGTON-Taraji P.Henson, an award-winning actress and Howard University College of Fine Arts alumnus who graduated in 1995 with her baby boy in her hands, returned May 7 as the keynote speaker. Henson received an honorary doctorate in human letters, just before giving a speech.
“I would like to take this moment to introduce myself again: my name is Dr. Taraji Penda Henson, Howard Class of 1995,” she said.
This year, Howard University awarded 1,953 degrees, including 1,225 undergraduate degrees and 711 graduate degrees. Reinforcing its status as a preeminent research institution, Howard has also awarded 85 research doctorates, including 58 doctorates. degrees. Graduates represented 43 states and 22 countries.
President of Howard University dr. Wayne AI Frederick hailed the promotion for standing up to a global pandemic, cyberattacks, bomb threats and a national awakening for racial justice in the United States.
“The challenges you faced during your careers at Howard brought out the best in you,” Dr. Frederick said. “You encountered disruptions and reacted with determination. You have encountered uncertainty and countered it with resilience. You have endured personal losses and struggles and responded with selflessness and service to others.
Chairman of the Howard University Board of Trustees Lawrence C. Morse also applauded the class for persevering through the struggles and finally graduating.
“Whether the challenges you faced were natural phenomena or concerted efforts to derail your education, you would not be deterred from your path,” Morse said. “You continued to advance at a determined and decisive pace until you reached this celebrated day.”
Alongside Henson, recipients of an honorary degree from Howard University in 2022 included a renowned public historian Elizabeth Clark LewisPh.D.; Robert L. Lumpkinstrustee emeritus of the Howard University Board of Trustees and former vice president; Stacey J. Mobley, Esq., distinguished Howard alumnus and Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees; and Jonelle Procopepresident and general manager of the Apollo Theater.
In her speech, Henson intimately shared her early experiences in Hollywood as a single mother and an underrated black actress. Henson explained that she was only paid $100,000 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a $167 million film project. Henson said the role came at a difficult time which included mourning the passing of her father. At the time, she said she “put faith over fear,” researched the role, and prepared for the audition process.
“I had been too well trained to audition for roles at the Ira Aldridge not to show up or try to phone or not be prepared,” Henson said, referring to campus theater. “You know I did my homework.
“In the end, I saw $30,000,” Henson said of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” after taxes and payments. “I was angry. I was disgusted and I was hurt. But instead of simmering in this negative space, instead of becoming cynical, I decided that I would let hope not hurt shape my work.
Henson explained how she used all her energy to build the character of Queenie in the film.
“[Queenie] was three-dimensional. She was emotional. She was no frills. She had a big heart. She loved big even though she lived in the Jim Crow South, just 50 years after slavery ended. And in honoring Queenie, I honored all of our ancestors and heroines who dreamed of a better future for themselves and then led a life of dignity, grace and determination, so fiercely that it made our present possible.
For the performance, Henson was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for Best Supporting Actress. Ultimately, Henson said portraying Queenie helped her cope with the loss of her father – and led to Tyler Perry casting her as the lead in ‘I Can Do Bad All By Myself’. .
“Hollywood may not have paid me what my work was worth,” Henson said. “But I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to show the world what the countless Queenies had done and what their sacrifices had meant.”
About Howard University
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private research university comprised of 14 schools and colleges. Students follow more than 140 study programs leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to excellence in truth and service and has produced one Schwarzman Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Scholars, and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard is also producing more African-American doctorates on campus. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information about Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.
Media contact: Sholnn Freeman; [email protected]