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Alfre Woodard, award-winning actor, producer, and activist, is awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts during the Phase I ceremony of Tufts University's 163rd Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2019. (Photo by Alonso Nichols)


You are one of the most extraordinarily versatile and talented actors of your generation, earning wide acclaim in film, theater, and television. With each role, you summon your gift for expressing the full depth of our humanity—our struggles and triumphs, our frailty and resilience, our sorrows and joys, our confusion and our courage. Like all great artists, you invite us to see ourselves with greater clarity through your work. Your activism is a natural extension of who you are: grounded in truth, unwavering in your drive to afford each of us our rightful dignity. With characteristic passion, you have worked for justice, co-founding Artists for a New South Africa, which seeks to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and further human rights and democracy in South Africa. As an active advocate for the arts in education, you have supported national initiatives to narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement. For your remarkable contributions as an actor and an activist, Tufts University is proud to award you the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.


ALFRE WOODARD’s work as an actor has earned her an Oscar nomination, four Emmy Awards and 17 Emmy nominations, three SAG Awards and a Golden Globe. The versatile Boston University College of Fine Arts graduate has portrayed doctors, judges, mothers high and low, queens, freedom fighters, suburban neighbors, POTUS, and a comic book supervillain.

Woodard’s illustrious body of work includes an Oscar-nominated performance in Martin Ritt’s Cross Creek; HBO’s Mandela, for which she earned an ACE award for her portrayal of Winnie Mandela; Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon; John Sayles’s Passion Fish; Joseph Sargent’s Miss Evers’ Boys, for which she won an Emmy, SAG, and Golden Globe awards; Spike Lee’s Crooklyn; Gina Prince- Bythewood’s Love & Basketball; Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys; Maya Angelou’s Down in the Delta; and, most importantly, her intergalactic turn with Captain Picard in Star Trek: First Contact.

We’ve enjoyed Woodard’s astonishing range on screen over four decades, about which she advises “Google me!” She played Betty Applewhite on the ABC drama Desperate Housewives and Ruby Jean Reynolds, mother to Lafayette Reynolds, on HBO’s True Blood. Woodard co-starred in Lifetime’s hit remake of Steel Magnolias, for which she was nominated for Screen Actors Guild and Emmy awards, and won an NAACP Image Award for her performance as Ouiser.

Most recently, she appeared in the acclaimed drama 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, and Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, plus New Line’s Annabelle, and the Netflix original film Juanita, as the title character. She also starred in Marvel’s Luke Cage as the diabolical Mariah Dillard, and she will next appear in the Apple series See, opposite Jason Momoa. This July, Woodard will give voice to Sarabi in Jon Favreau’s live-action The Lion King. Coming in the fall is her riveting portrayal of a death-row prison warden in Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency, which was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

While building this illustrious career, Woodard co-founded Artists for a New South Africa, a nonprofit working to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and further the cause of democracy and human rights in South Africa and the United States. For this and her anti-apartheid activism, she was honored with the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo, South Africa’s highest civilian medal.

Woodard directed and produced Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales, which won the 2010 Audiobook of the Year and garnered a 2010 Grammy Award nomination for Best Spoken Word Album for Children. The audiobook hosts a collaboration of talent both broad and diverse, featuring Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Samuel L. Jackson.

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Woodard to his President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. As part of her work on the committee, Woodard adopted several high-poverty and underperforming public schools around the country. She is an active advocate for the arts in education, largely through her work on the committee’s “Turnaround Arts” initiative, which was launched in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council to narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement through the arts. Now based in the Kennedy Center, Turnaround Arts is spurring the creativity, expanding the scholarship, nurturing the citizenship, and introducing possibility in the lives of 50,000 kids, while turning around 80 formerly “at-risk” schools nationwide. She says acting is her profession but believes everyone’s real job “is to learn how to love each other—in our households, in our communities.” Woodard adds, “We do that by working for justice.”

Woodard is unfazed by the glitz of celebrity but is grateful for its opportunity to “get her to the mic.”

She remains fueled by the values she learned growing up in Tulsa. In November 2014, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and took the opportunity to credit her parents in her acceptance remarks. Her parents, always mindful of the hardship of others, “planted the seed of humanity” in her as a child: “They allowed me artistic as well as personal freedom. They didn’t say ‘go out and conquer’ or ‘go out and accumulate,’ they just said ‘Go. Do it. Be it. Be yourself. Fill yourself all the way up, Alfre, and never, ever forget your neighbor.’”

Alfre Woodard will receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.