Sheryl Lee Ralph to Address Graduates at Drexel’s University-wide Commencement Ceremony

Portrait photo of Sheryl Lee Ralph

Sheryl Lee Ralph, award-winning actress and producer, will address Drexel's Class of 2024.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, award-winning actress and producer, will address the Class of 2024 at Drexel’s University-commencement ceremony on June 14 at Citizens Bank Park. 

A revered figure in the entertainment industry, Ralph has been thrilling audiences and promoting health awareness for decades. Her acclaimed career spanning four decades has garnered her Emmy, Critics Choice and Independent Spirit Awards. 

“Ms. Ralph is a powerful voice, passionate health advocate and devoted philanthropist who will inspire our graduates to make a positive difference in their professional careers and personal journeys,” said Drexel President John Fry. “I look forward to honoring Ms. Ralph and our graduating class during this momentous occasion.”

Most recently, Ralph stars as the unflappable kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard in ABC’s “Abbott Elementary.” For her superb portrayal of the character, she earned a 2022 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, becoming only the second Black woman to win this award. The hit mockumentary series portrays life in a Philadelphia public school, and Ms. Ralph drew inspiration for her character from her mother-in-law, who worked for decades in the Philadelphia school system.

In 2023, she also won a Critics Choice award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and inspired viewers during her speech with a powerful message of self-acceptance. 

Ralph first emerged on the national scene in 1977, appearing in the feature film “A Piece of the Action,” which was directed by Sidney Poitier. Four years later, she created and portrayed the role of Deena Jones in “Dreamgirls” on Broadway, for which she received a Tony Award nomination in 1982 for Best Actress in a Musical.

Additional credits in her acclaimed career include appearing in a wide array of television programs from “Moesha” to “Ray Donovan” to “Barbershop” and in Hollywood films including “The Mighty Quinn,” “Mistress” and “The Distinguished Gentlemen.” She was recognized with a Best Supporting Actress win at the Independent Spirit Awards for her performance in “To Sleep with Anger.” 

As a writer and director, Ralph’s short film, “Secrets,” was a finalist in the HBO Film Short Competition, Showtime’s Filmmaker Award Series and the BET Filmmaker Award Competition.

Her stage appearances have also included “Wicked,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “The First Wives Club” on Broadway, where she produced “Thoughts of a Colored Man” and “Ohio State Murders.”

Off camera, Ralph has earned recognition for her work as a health advocate and AIDS activist. She is the founding director of the nonprofit DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed) Foundation. She also created “Divas Simply Singing,” the country’s longest-running musical AIDS benefit. For her activism, the United Nations honored her with the first Red Ribbon Award. She was also appointed as an AIDS Ambassador for the Ministry of Health of Jamaica, which in 2022 awarded her the honorary Order of Jamaica.

In recognition of her contributions to the entertainment industry and her steadfast commitment to reducing health disparities, Drexel will present Ralph with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.