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The University hosts two commencements per academic year: one during the Fall semester in December; and one during the Spring semester in May. Information for Fall 2016 commencement exercises is below.
Spring Commencement Exercises
May 13, 2017 | 3:00 p.m. | Pine Bluff Convention Center Arena
Guest Speaker: Phylicia Rashad
Whether she is bringing laughter to millions of television viewers around the world, moving theatre-goers to tears, thrilling movie fans, offering new insights to students by teaching Master Classes at renowned learning institutions that include Howard University, Julliard, and Carnegie Mellon, serving on Boards of prestigious organizations, or breaking new ground as a director, Phylicia Rashad is one of the entertainment world’s most extraordinary performing artists.
The Houston, Texas native graduated Magna Cum Laude from Howard University. She became a household name when she portrayed “Claire Huxtable” on The Cosby Show, a character whose appeal has earned her numerous honors and awards for over two decades. She teamed up with Bill Cosby again on television as “Ruth Lucas” on Cosby. Currently, she has a recurring role as “Diana Dubois” on the popular Fox TV series Empire and is slated to appear in the upcoming Amazon series, Jean Claude Van Johnson. While television was a catalyst in the rise of Rashad’s career, she has also been a force on the stage, appearing both on and off-Broadway, often in projects that showcase her musical talent such as Jelly’s Last Jam, Into The Woods, Dreamgirls, and The Wiz. Inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2016, Ms. Rashad received the 2016 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play for her performance as “Shelah” in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Head of Passes at the Public Theater. She has performed on Broadway as “Violet Weston” in August Osage County, “Big Mama” in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ( a role that she reprised on the London Stage), “Aunt Ester” in August Wilson’s Gem Of The Ocean,( Tony Award nomination) and “Queen Britannia” in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at Lincoln Center. Ms. Rashad received both the Drama Desk and the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her riveting performance as “Lena Younger” in the Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun. She appeared in Ryan Coogler’s Creed, Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, and starred in Perry’s highly acclaimed film version of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf. She made her directorial debut at the Seattle Repertory Theater with August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. Critics gave her first foray into the directing world rave reviews, saying “Rashad steers Seattle Rep’s show with great sensitivity and understanding – for both the text and actors.” Of her work at the helm of The Ebony Repertory Theatre’s production of A Raisin in the Sun in the Spring of 2011, the Los Angeles Times hailed Rashad’s California directing debut by stating that she “…nails the play’s rich humor in a solidly rendered production.” She remounted the production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles and at the Westport County Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut.
Rashad has also directed August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles( 2014 NAACP Theatre Award for Best Director) and Fences at the Longwharf Theatre and the McCarter Theatre. She returned to the Mark Taper Forum in 2015 to direct Paul Oakley Stovall’s Immediate Family. Respected in the academic world, Rashad is the first recipient of the Denzel Washington Chair in Theatre at Fordham University. She received an Honorary Doctorate from Spelman College where First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the 2011 commencement address. Ms. Rashad conducted Master Classes at the prestigious Ten Chimneys Foundation for the 2015 Lunt Fontanne Fellows. She also holds Honorary Doctorates from Fordham University, Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, Providence College, Morris Brown College, Clark Atlanta University, Barber Scotia College, St. Augustine College, and Brown University. In 2015, Ms. Rashad received the BET Honors Theatrical Arts Award, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Spirit of Shakespeare Award, and the Inaugural Legacy Award of the Ruben Santiago Hudson Fine Arts Learning Center. Among the other awards that decorate her walls and shelves are the 2014 Mosaic Woman Legend Award of Diversity Woman Magazine, the Texas Medal of Arts, the National Council of Negro Women’s Dorothy L. Height Dreammaker Award, AFTRA’s AMEE Award for Excellence in Entertainment, the Board of Directors of New York Women In Film and Television’s Muse Award for Outstanding Vision and Achievement, Dallas Women In Film Topaz Award, Peoples’ Choice Awards, several NAACP Image Awards, and the Pan African Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Rashad serves on the Advisory Board of the PRASAD Project and the Board of Directors of True Colors Theatre, the Broadway Inspirational Voices, The Actors Center, the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, and the ADEPT Center which is steering the restoration of the historic Brainerd Institute. Phylicia Rashad is also the mother of two adult children.