Academy Award-winning actress and alumna, Taraji P. Henson delivered the commencement speech. (Photo by Howard University)

By Deborah Bailey,
AFRO D.C. News Editor

Generations of Howard’s fine arts community demonstrated how the torch is passed at the world-renowned HBCU, both at the podium and in the audience at Howard University’s 154th commencement celebrated on May 7. 

Howard University Alumna, Academy Award-winning actor, producer and director, Taraji P. Henson came home to familiar Georgia Ave. surroundings to deliver the commencement address to shouts and cheers from the audience. 

“Do y’all know the saying you don’t look like what you’ve been through?” Henson started her address to her home Howard University audience. 

“You triumphed over circumstances that would have taken out lesser beings, but you’re still here,” declared Henson who has also been outspoken on erasing the stigma around mental health in the black community. Henson is the founder of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in 2018 in honor of her father who suffered mental health challenges without the benefit of services or support.

Shortly before Henson’s address to the graduates, Howard University President, xc awarded Henson an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters.     

“The breadth of your roles is extraordinary,” Frederick said in introducing Henson to her alma mater.  He went on to list the many roles that Henson has starred in, each one, to a screaming audience of receptive students. 

“Whether it is the infamous Cookie, the lion of Empire; Catherine Johnson in Hidden Figures;  Civil Rights Activist Anne Atwater in the Best of Enemies; Queenie in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for which you received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress…detective Carter in Person of Interest; Shug in Hustle and Flow; Sherry Parker in Karate Kid or Yvette in John Singleton’s Baby Boy, you…give fresh new life to your Swahili first and middle names, hope and love,” Frederick extolled.  

Henson spoke about the special bond Howard students had when she was in school at the “Hilltop” the nickname many students and alumni have for the institution and revealed how the generations of the University’s fine arts community stick together to help each other through. 

“You know I became a mom at Howard. When I was six months pregnant… two Howard Godmothers, Dean Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen who helped me stay in school,” Henson said of the scholarship that she was awarded created by Rashad and Allen in their father’s honor. 

“I would not have graduated without their support. So Howard Bisons, we need each other.” Henson reminded the graduates.  

However, Henson was not the only Black media celebrity attending the May 7 graduation in Howard University’s Gymnasium.  

Rashad was on hand at the end of her first year as Dean to present the graduates under her charge. 

“I present to you the inaugural class of graduates of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts,” she beamed. The College of Fine Arts changed its name to honor the Academy Award-nominated actor and Howard University alum after his death from colon cancer in August 2020. 

On May 7, ‘Black-ish’ actor Anthony Anderson graduated from Howard University after 30 years. (Courtesy photo)

Another the torch passed once again as “Black-ish” television actor Anthony Anderson received the Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. Anderson first attended Howard decades ago and dropped out due to financial reasons. Anderson re-enrolled in 2018 and credits his 22-year-old son, Nathan, who encouraged him to finish. 

“To quote Biggie, ‘IT WAS ALL A DREAM!'” Anderson posted on Instagram regarding completing his studies at Howard University. 

 “Words can’t begin to describe the emotional roller coaster I’m on right now. It’s literally been 30 years in the making,” he wrote. 

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