Sheryl Lee Ralph, a well-known actress, author, singer, and activist, with Jamaican roots has received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Rutgers University, adding yet another distinction to her impressive resume. Jonathan Holloway, the president of Rutgers, presented Dr. Ralph with the honor.
Ralph entered college at 16, finished in three years, and became the school’s youngest graduate at age 19 in 1972. Ralph was listed as one of the top 10 college women in America at the time by Glamour magazine.
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Dr. Ralph, who delivered the commencement speech at the Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) Commencement Ceremony on Mother’s Day, discussed her time at the school. The Abbott Elementary actress who played Barbara Howard a Kindergarten teacher and the main character of the comical sitcom, acknowledged her experience at Rutgers University as the starting point of her career and urged the graduates to pursue their dreams.
The powerhouse speaker who has a passion for encouraging others shared with the graduating class, “I could have just imagined what it was like when you first came here to the campus as freshmen. Our country and the world took a tragic and difficult turn. Kobe died, George Floyd was killed and then the world and everything changed when COVID-19 … shut down the world. But, you stayed the course, you never gave up, you kept doing. We need people who have been through something and still have so much to give and share, that’s you.”
Ralph added, “Don’t chase money. Money will come. Figure out what makes you happy. If you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like a job.”
Throughout her diversified career, Dr. Ralph has captivated audiences with her superb performances. She received tremendous acclaim for her breakthrough performance as Deena Jones in the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls, earned a Tony Award nomination, and cemented her place in theatergoers’ hearts.
She transitioned from stage to film and television with ease, putting forth outstanding performances in shows like Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and the well-regarded television series Moesha. She was awarded the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her contributions to the entertainment business, and she opened the path for future generations of African-American celebrities.
For her outstanding contributions to the global cinema business, she was also elevated to the Order of Jamaica.
The influence of Dr. Ralph goes well beyond the world of entertainment. She has advocated for significant social problems using her platform, notably the battle against HIV/AIDS. She collaborated in the establishment of the DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware) Foundation in 1990 in reaction to the epidemic’s catastrophic effects on the African-American community. Dr. Ralph has dedicated his life to spreading knowledge about the condition, encouraging prevention, and helping people who are impacted by it.
She has received several honors for her unrelenting commitment to HIV/AIDS advocacy, including the coveted Red Ribbon Award from the United Nations.
Her initial major at Rutgers was pre-medicine, but she later switched to English literature and theater arts. Unfortunately, Dr. Ralph would have had to miss her own graduation to work on a Skippy Peanut Butter Commercial, but she was delighted to cross the stage in her cap and gown as Dr. Sheryl-Lee OJ Ralph.