Sheryl Lee Ralph
Credit: Sean Black

Sheryl Lee Ralph, an Emmy Award-winning actress, Broadway star and alumna of Rutgers College, will be awarded an honorary doctor of fine arts degree when she addresses graduates at the 257th anniversary commencement of Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences on May 14, 2023, the Rutgers Board of Governors approved today.

"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.

The board also approved an honorary doctor of humane letters degree for Mark Angelson, chair of the Institute of International Education, a member of the U.S. President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and former chair of the Board of Governors, and an honorary doctor of science degree for Katalin Karikó, award-winning neurosurgery professor and former senior vice president of BioNTech, to be awarded at the ceremony.

“I am beyond excited to welcome our inspirational, extremely talented and accomplished commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients to celebrate our 2023 graduating students,” President Jonathan Holloway said. “Our students have shown fortitude, flexibility and dedication on their uncharted path to academic success, and we are ecstatic to be putting the final touches on uplifting and spectacular commencement festivities in their honor.”

World-renowned jazz musician, composer and educator Terence Blanchard will deliver remarks at Rutgers University-Newark’s commencement ceremony on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at the Prudential Center in Newark. The board also confirmed an honorary doctor of arts degree for Blanchard.

Rutgers University-Camden will hold the Rutgers University–Camden and Graduate School Commencement on Monday, May 15, 2023, at the Freedom Mortgage Pavilion. The Honorable Dana Redd, former mayor of the City of Camden and a 1996 graduate of the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, will deliver the keynote address at the ceremony, where she will also receive an honorary doctor of letters degree.

Sheryl Lee Ralph

Among the first class of undergraduate women admitted to Rutgers College in 1972, Ralph found her calling when she landed the lead in a campus play. In 1975, at age 19, she graduated near the top of her class earning her English literature and theater arts degree. Ralph was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2002 and addressed Rutgers College graduates in 2003.

From bringing characters to life on screen, performing on Broadway, and producing, to landing the title of national best-selling author with her literary debut, Ralph has long been a revered force in the entertainment industry. Her acclaimed career spanning four decades has garnered her Emmy, Critics Choice, and Independent Spirit Awards, and her deep-rooted philanthropic endeavors have touched lives across the world.

Forty years after being nominated for a Tony Award for her electrifying performance as Deena Jones in the 1982 Broadway hit Dreamgirls, Ralph made history at the 2022 Emmy Awards when she won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as all-knowing kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard in ABC’s hit sitcom Abbott Elementary, becoming only the second Black woman to win the award. The show has captivated the nation with its depiction of an underfunded Philadelphia public school and its dedicated teachers. And Ralph’s resolute character is based, in part, on her mother-in-law, Ann Hughes, who had a long career as a secretary in the Philadelphia school system.

Additional television credits for Ralph include starring in Moesha, a lead role in Instant Mom, starring in Ray Donovan, and appearing in many others, including Barbershop, ER, Designing Women, Criminal Minds, and Claws. Ralph is currently recurring as President Kelly Wade in Motherland. On the big screen, Ralph has worked on The Mighty Quinn, Mistress, To Sleep with Anger, The Distinguished Gentlemen, picking up a win for Best Supporting Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards for her performance in To Sleep with Anger. As a writer and director, Ralph’s award-winning short film Secrets was a finalist in the HBO Film Short Competition, Showtime’s Filmmaker Award Series, and the BET Filmmaker Award Competition.

In addition to her award-winning work creating the role of Deena Jones, Ralph has performed on Broadway most recently as Madame Morrible in Wicked, becoming the first Black actress to take on the classic role. She also produced on Broadway’s Thoughts of a Colored Man. Additional Broadway credits include the Tony Award-winning musical Thoroughly Modern Millie and reuniting with Loretta Devine and Jennifer Holliday for a sold-out, one-night-only Dreamgirls reunion.

This year she performed a rousing rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during the pregame entertainment at Super Bowl LVII. As a writer, Ralph’s debut book Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl was a national best-selling title.

Off camera, Ralph is a passionate health advocate and honored AIDS activist. She is the founding director of the nonprofit organization DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed) Foundation and created the critically acclaimed Divas Simply Singing!, an evening of song and entertainment that is the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country. Ralph was awarded the first Red Ribbon Award at the United Nations for her unique use of the arts in HIV/AIDS activism and was recently appointed as an AIDS Ambassador for Jamaica’s Ministry of Health.

A mother of two with a blended family of four, Ralph is married to Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes. 

Mark Angelson

Mark Angelson to Receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree

Mark Angelson is the chair of the Institute of International Education, the nonpartisan world leader in international education and scholar rescue that administers the Fulbright Scholarships for the U.S. Department of State and hundreds of other programs from offices around the globe. Angelson also serves in the Executive Office of the President of the United States as a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. 

He will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Rutgers University at its 257th Commencement on May 14, 2023.

An alumnus of Rutgers College and Rutgers Law School, Angelson is the former chair and current vice chair of Rutgers University’s Board of Governors, as well as the chair of the board's Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics. He also chaired the 2019-2020 presidential search committee that recommended Jonathan Holloway as the 21st president of Rutgers University.

During his long career, Angelson has served as the deputy mayor of the City of Chicago, CEO of RR Donnelley, chair and CEO of two prominent Canadian public companies, chair of international investment firm MidOcean Partners, vice chair of Chancery Lane Capital, and vice chair of the Biden Foundation from its inception until its dissolution. He previously had a lengthy and distinguished career as an international lawyer in Singapore, New York, and London. 

Angelson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and its membership committee, the Pilgrims (New York and London), the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, and the Economic Club of New York. He is a Life Trustee of Northwestern University and adjunct professor of Mergers and Acquisitions at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. He is the coauthor of several articles on the efficacy of rescuing threatened professors and rebuilding national academies the world over. 

Angelson is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree from the John Marshall Law School and the Harold H. Hines Award from the United Negro College Fund. He and Lynn, his wife of 43 years, have three adult daughters and three grandchildren.  

Katalin Kariko
Katalin Karikó. Credit: Courtesy of Vilcek Foundation M Hamilton Visuals

Katalin Karikó to Receive an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree

Katalin Karikó devoted four decades of research focusing on RNA-mediated mechanisms—and her groundbreaking work unlocked the opportunity for the therapeutic use of the mRNA. The mRNA-lipid nanoparticle vaccine platform developed by Karikó and others was used to create the FDA-approved mRNA vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that are crucial to fighting COVID-19.

In the last two years, for her achievements, Karikó received many prestigious awards, including the Japan Prize, Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, Paul Ehrlich Prize, Benjamin Franklin Medal, Canada Gairdner International Award, Kovalenko Medal, Tang Prize, Warren Alpert Prize, Princess Asturias Award, BBVA Frontiers Award, Breakthrough Prize and Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.

Karikó is the former senior vice president at BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, and currently teaches neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania, where she has worked for 24 years. She co-invented 14 patents granted by the United States. She is also the cofounder of RNARx—a company dedicated to developing nucleoside-modified mRNA for therapy.

Throughout her research career, Karikó has performed clinical trials and studies on mRNA therapy as a treatment for several diseases, including HIV, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. This research demonstrated the possibility of treating autoimmune diseases using novel mRNA technology—findings that paved the way for the expeditious development of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

Karikó received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Szeged in her native Hungary in 1982. She is the mother of two-time Olympic Champion, five-time World Champion rower Susan Francia.

President Jonathan Holloway will confer an honorary doctor of science degree on Karikó at Rutgers 257th Commencement on May 14, 2023.

Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard. Credit: Cedric Angeles

Rutgers-Newark Names Commencement Speaker

World-renowned jazz musician, composer and educator Terence Blanchard will deliver remarks at Rutgers University-Newark’s commencement ceremony on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at the Prudential Center in Newark. The board also voted to award Blanchard an honorary doctor of arts degree.

Recognized around the world for his musical performances and prolific repertoire of compositions for film, television, opera, and more, the New Orleans-born Blanchard has been at the forefront of championing human rights, civil rights, and racial justice through his works. A musical polymath who launched his career as a bandleader in the 1990s, he has since won seven Grammy Awards and has been nominated for two Oscars for making powerful statements through music that confront that human cost of bigotry and structural racism. 

Blanchard served as artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and the Henry Mancini Institute at the University of Miami. He was a 2018 USA Fellow trumpeter/composer and the first Kenny Burrell Chair in Jazz Studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music from 1996 to 2016, among many other accomplishments.


Dana Reed
Dana Redd. Credit: Courtesy of Rutgers-Camden.

Rutgers-Camden Names Commencement Speaker

Rutgers University-Camden will hold the Rutgers University–Camden and Graduate School Commencement on Monday, May 15, 2023 at the Freedom Mortgage Pavilion. The Honorable Dana Redd, former Mayor of the City of Camden and a 1996 graduate of the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, will deliver the keynote address at the ceremony, where she will also receive an honorary doctor of letters degree.

Redd served two terms as mayor of Camden from 2010 to 2018. During this time, she led a state intervention for the public school system to improve academic outcomes among the city’s children and transitioned to a new community-based model of public safety that motivated President Obama to visit the city.

Upon the completion of her two terms as mayor, Redd served as CEO of the Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors, where she managed the construction and operations of the Joint Health Sciences Center and secured $4.5 million in state funding for new health initiatives. Redd currently serves as CEO of Camden Community Partnership and is a member of the Rutgers–Camden Finest, a distinction reserved for the university’s most prominent alumni.