Graduation season is in full swing, and EBONY is highlighting some of the biggest celebrities in the entertainment industry who graduated from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Household names such as Oprah, Spike Lee and Toni Morrison as well as musicians including 2 Chainz, K. Michelle and David Banner have earned degrees from some of the most well-known HBCUs.
Before she was a talk show queen, Oprah honed her skills by studying communications at Tennessee State University. She received a full scholarship after winning a debate contest and graduated in 1976. She went on to become the youngest and first Black female news anchor at WLAC-TV in Nashville, Tennessee—and the rest is history.
This movie star, who has more than 125 film credits, originally attended Morehouse College in Atlanta intending to pursue marine biology, he but switched his major to acting after joining a local acting group. Jackson’s wife, actress and producer LaTanya Richardson, also graduated from an HBCU, Spelman College, in Atlanta. In his junior year, Jackson was expelled from Morehouse for allegedly locking board members in a building for 48 hours to protest the school’s curriculum and bureaucracy but finished his degree. His Pulp Fiction character, Jules Winnfield, would approve.
The actress who portrays Empire matriarch Cookie Lyon attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where she studied electrical engineering. Henson transferred to Howard University in Washington, D.C., to study drama and graduated in 1995. To pay for college, she worked mornings as a secretary at the Pentagon and spent evenings as a singing and dancing waitress on a cruise ship, the Spirit of Washington.
The notable filmmaker went from public school in Brooklyn, New York, to the private and all-male HBCU Morehouse, where he made his first student film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 1979. Lee also took film classes at Clark Atlanta University.
It’s no shock that K. Michelle received a music scholarship to Florida A&M University, but what may come as a surprise is that she yodeled during her audition. The singer took time off from school to give birth and take care of her son, then returned to FAMU to finish her degree.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning author enrolled in Howard University in 1949; she earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1953 and a master’s in 1955. Morrison went on to study at one Ivy League university, Cornell, and later taught for more than a decade at another, Princeton.
Jackson attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisana, to pursue music studies and graduated in 1979. He went on to have a lengthy music career, playing bass with a diverse group of musicians including Bob Dylan, Journey and Herbie Hancock, to name a few. Millennials may know Jackson as a former judge on American Idol.
The Atlanta-born rapper, whose real name is Tauheed Epps, attended Alabama State University on a scholarship and played basketball for two years. He then transferred to Virginia State University but returned to Alabama State to finish college, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Years before being linked to Donald Trump, the reality TV personality received her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism at Central State University in Ohio. She went on to earn a master’s at Howard University, where she also worked toward a doctorate but did not complete it.
Rashad studied at Howard University, graduating magna cum laude in 1970 with a bachelor of fine arts degree. She went on to become the first African-American actress to win a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, for her role as Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun.
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Rashad’s sister, fellow actress and notable choreographer and dancer Debbie Allen also graduated from Howard University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in classical Greek literature, speech and theater.
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The comedian, actress and Emmy Award-winning writer graduated in 1986 from Hampton University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing. After college, Sykes worked as a contracting specialist at the National Security Agency for five years before making the switch to comedy full time.
The Mississippi rapper, whose real name is Lavell William Crump, attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which happens to be his mother’s alma mater. He served as president of the student government and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business. He also attended the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to pursue a master’s in education but left to focus on music.
Adams, known as the “Reigning Queen of Gospel,” attended Texas Southern University. She graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism in 1984 and began a career as a schoolteacher, which she left to pursue singing full time. She returned to her alma mater to give a commencement speech in 2017.
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Before becoming a notable producer of films such as Girls Trip, Ride Along and Think Like a Man, Packer was studying electrical engineering at Florida A&M University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in 1996. In 2015, Packer returned to FAMU as a keynote speaker.