It’s official! Abbott Elementary‘s very own Sheryl Lee Ralph has been announced as Rutger’s University’s 2023 commencement speaker. Ralph will additionally be awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. Rutgers holds a special place in Ralph’s career. She was among the first class of undergraduate women admitted to Rutgers College in 1972.
“As we celebrate the birthday of Paul Robeson, great actor, great artist, outstanding athlete, outstanding student, I’m so happy to represent his legacy as one of the first women, especially one of the first Black women, to graduate from Rutgers College. Legacy matters,” Ralph said.
At Rutgers, majored in English literature and theater arts. She earned her degree in both disciplines in 1975 at the age of 19. Ralph was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2002.
Ralph won her first Emmy in 2022. Her win came forty years after being nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in 1982’s Dreamgirls. She won her Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Barbara Howard in ABC’s hit sitcom Abbott Elementary. She was the second Black woman to win the award after Jackée Harry’s win in 1987 for her performance as Sandra Clark in 227.
“To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like,” Ralph said in her Emmys acceptance speech. “This is what striving looks like. And don’t you ever, ever give up on you, because if you get a Quinta Brunson in your corner, if you get a husband like mine in your corner, if you get children like mine in your corner, and if you’ve got friends like mine who voted for me, cheered for me, loved me — thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
Rutgers University’s commencement will be on May 14, 2023.