Alfre Woodard to Deliver Commencement Address

An award-winning actress and activist, she is among five honorary degree recipients
View a video about Alfre Woodard. Video: Steffan Hacker
April 2, 2019

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Actor, producer, and activist Alfre Woodard will deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2019 on May 19.

Woodard’s exemplary work across her forty-year acting career has earned her an Academy Award nomination, four Emmy Awards and seventeen nominations, three SAG Awards, a Grammy Award nomination and a Golden Globe.

The roles Woodard has performed reflect the diversity of women’s experiences throughout history. Woodard has portrayed doctors, judges, mothers, queens, freedom fighters, suburban neighbors, politicians, and even a comic book supervillain.

She has appeared in such memorable film and television productions as HBO’s Mandela, portraying Winnie Mandela, Miss Evers’ Boys, Spike Lee’s Crooklyn, Love and Basketball, Desperate Housewives, True Blood, Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias, Captain America: Civil War, Marvel’s Luke Cage, and 12 Years a Slave, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2014.

Woodard was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her work in the 1983 film Cross Creek.

Earlier this year, Woodard was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for her performance as a troubled prison warden in the film Clemency. This June, Woodard can be heard voicing lion queen Sarabi in the live-action version of The Lion King.

In addition to her acting career, Woodard also is an influential activist, who for twenty-five years worked to support human rights, democracy, and the fight against HIV/AIDS in South Africa and the U.S.

President Barack Obama appointed her to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 2009, where she helped found the Turnaround Arts Initiative as a way to narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement across the country. She continues her work with Turnaround Arts, which is now based at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. As a committed child advocate, she also works in support of the Children’s Defense Fund.

A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Woodard graduated from Boston University in 1974.

“Alfre Woodard’s incredible career has entertained moviegoers and TV viewers for decades, and her activism for education and justice is an inspiration to our community,” said Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco. “We are excited to welcome her back to Boston and look forward to hearing her address to the Tufts Class of 2019 and their families and friends.”

At commencement, which begins at 9 a.m. on the academic quad of Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus, Woodard will receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. Four other distinguished women and men will receive honorary degrees:

Marie Cassidy, director of the Medford Family Network (MFN). Cassidy’s twenty-five-year career at MFN has been dedicated to enriching the lives of children and their families in Medford, one of Tufts’ host communities. The network provides family support and parenting education to the family and caregivers of every child in Medford under the age of eight. Through Cassidy’s work as director, the MFN created a support web for families of young children through enhanced program development. Making connections and encouraging dialogue among families, community resources, and public agencies, Cassidy has helped Medford’s families and children live healthier and safer lives. Those who live and work in the community, including many Tufts staff, faculty, and alumni and their children, have benefited from the support and care the MFN provides. She will receive an Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.

Edward J. Markey, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Elected to the Senate in 2013, he previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives as the congressman for Massachusetts' 5th district, which includes a section of Tufts' Medford/Somerville campus. Markey has made sustainable energy policy a focus of his career, serving as chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. He co-authored the Waxman-Markey bill, the only comprehensive climate legislation ever to pass a chamber of Congress. He is the co-author of the Green New Deal with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, which outlines a 10-year mobilization to respond to climate change threats and create millions of jobs. Markey is also an advocate for competition in telecommunications markets and is a leading voice in support of internet freedom. He will receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws.

Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools. Moskowitz began her career in education as a college professor before founding Success Academy, a network of K-12 public charter schools, in New York City in 2006. Serving primarily low-income children of color, Success Academy operates forty-seven schools in some of the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. With a student body of 17,000, the schools are in aggregate the size of the state’s seventh largest school district, and their students regularly outperform students in affluent suburban districts. Each year, the highly-popular charter system holds a lottery for admission, open to all children in New York state, including English language learners and students with special needs. Moskowitz will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Ellen Ochoa, veteran astronaut, inventor, and former director of the Johnson Space Center at NASA. A California native, she turned her research engineering background into a career exploring the cosmos. After receiving a doctorate in electrical engineering at Stanford University, she developed and patented optical systems for image processing and led a NASA research team in high-performance computing. Selected for the NASA astronaut program in 1990, in 1993 Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman in the world to go to space when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery. She traveled on three additional space flights, logging nearly 1,000 hours in space. Ochoa held several roles in the Astronaut Office and at Johnson Space Center before becoming the center’s first Hispanic and second female director in 2013. She will receive an Honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. 

In addition, Susan Rice, former U.S. National Security Advisor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will deliver the Class Day speech at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University on Saturday, May 18.

U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) will address graduates of the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy as part of the commencement festivities on Sunday, May 19.

As part of the School of Engineering’s commencement celebration, former president and director of the Museum of Science, Boston and president-designate of Roger Williams University Ioannis Miaoulis—a “triple Jumbo” Tufts alumnus, former dean, and Tufts trustee emeritus—will address bachelor’s degree graduates on Sunday, May 19. Former Aware, Inc. CEO Michael Tzannes—who received his Ph.D. at Tufts—will address graduates of the School of Engineering’s graduate programs on Saturday, May 18.

Robin Smyton can be reached at robin.smyton@tufts.edu.

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