Taraji P. Henson Receives Honorary Doctorate From Howard Before Giving Moving Commencement Speech
"With grace and strength, go become who you are destined to be," Henson told Howard University's Class of 2022.
by Nick Fenley
May 09, 2022 at 8:12 pm
Henson was first announced as the university’s spring 2022 commencement speaker last month, as Blavity previously reported. However, what the actress didn’t know was that Howard was also gearing up to present her with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, which Henson received just before addressing the grads.
“I would like to take this moment to reintroduce myself: My name is Dr. Taraji Penda Henson, Howard class of 1995,” she said before beginning her highly anticipated speech.
Commencement speaker Taraji P. Henson receives an honorary degree during Howard University 2022 Commencement in Washington, DC.
— Getty Images Entertainment (@GettyVIP) May 8, 2022
Henson specifically blasted the fact that she was only paid around $100,000, before taxes, for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — a $167M project.
“At the end of the day, I saw $30,000 [after taxes and payouts]. I was angry, I was disgusted, and I was hurt,” Henson recalled. “But instead of stewing in that negative space, instead of becoming cynical, I decided that I would allow hope not hurt shape my work.”
She proceeded to also speak on how she truly put her all into her character for the role, Queenie.
“[Queenie] was three-dimensional. She was emotional. She was no-nonsense. She had a big heart. She loved big even though she was living in the Jim Crow South, barely 50 years after the end of slavery,” Henson noted. “And in honoring Queenie, I honored all of our ancestors and sheroes who dreamed of a better future for themselves and then led lives of dignity, grace, and determination, so fiercely that it made our present possible.”
Through Henson’s role as Queenie, she was nominated for an Academy Award. Additionally, she said that her outstanding performance led her to be cast in Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself.
“Hollywood may not have paid me what my work was worth, 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,” Henson said.
Taraji’s Howard commencement speech is another example of why I can’t participate in Tyler Perry hate because he’s supported too many black women in real life. Helped them see their worth and created opportunities for them to broadcast their talents while paying them that worth.
— shanti ❤️ (@AshantiSallee) May 7, 2022
“Find your bigger picture, bet on yourself, and let your peers’ success be your fuel, not your distraction,” she added. “Howard, I challenge you to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, because you look too good on the outside to not be doing the work on the inside.”
“The doors of the world are open to you,” Henson continued. “I want you to walk on up, step on through, and — with grace and strength — go become who you are destined to be.”
“The doors of the world are open to you… Walk on up, step on through, and with grace and strength, go become who you are destined to be.”
– Taraji P. Henson
— Howard University (@HowardU) May 7, 2022
Additionally, Black-ish actor Anthony Anderson actually walked in the ceremony and received a degree.
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“To quote Biggie, ‘IT WAS ALL A DREAM!’ Words can’t begin to describe the emotional roller coaster I’m on right now,” Anderson wrote of his accomplishment. “It’s literally been 30 years in the making. This spring I was finally able to complete the work to graduate from Howard University with a BFA degree from the Chadwick A Boseman College of Fine Arts!”
“Yesterday was a full circle moment. It’s never too late! Things happen when they’re supposed to happen,” he continued.