We’ve been cheered up in the past few months by scattered bursts of entertainment-industry news of the good kind: the announcements of honorary doctorates awarded to a few women who are veterans in their fields.
The admirable likes of Angela Bassett, Dana ‘Queen Latifah’ Owens, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Kimora Lee Simmons all now hold the title of ‘doctor’, over and above their other achievements and career milestones. These women are not just icons in the loose millennial sense of the word, but they have all made a distinct and historic contribution to the arts and pop culture over the past decade or three. Their being conferred with honorary doctorates by various universities is proof of this.
While the most recent doctorates were awarded this May, previous months have also been good to a few game-changing women we admire. In March, ‘Cranes In The Sky’ singer Solange was named 2018 Artist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations for her Grammy Award-winning album A Seat at the Table. And most recently, these trailblazers got capped:
1. Esther Mahlangu – University of Johannesburg
In April, world-renowned Ndebele painter Dr Esther Mahlangu was honoured with an honorary doctorate by the University of Johannesburg in recognition of her ‘legacy as a cultural entrepreneur who skilfully negotiated local and global worlds as an educator.’ At 82 years old, she continues to be a creative leader and an inspiration to brands such as Belvedere and BMW.
2. Angela Bassett – Yale University
Last week, Golden Globe-winning actress Angela Bassett received her third degree from Yale University during the varsity’s commencement ceremony. Bassett’s third degree, an honorary doctorate, marks an impressive hat-trick that includes a Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies, obtained in 1980, as well as a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama, obtained in 1983. Now at 59 years old, the Black Panther actress is a doctor, becoming yet another star to prove that success has no age limit.
3. Queen Latifah – Rutgers University
Rapper, actress, presenter and now doctor – all by the age of 48 years old. Dana Owens (Queen Latifah to you and I) is a Rutgers University honorary doctorate recipient. The Girls’ Trip actress, who is known for expressing herself with wit, humour and candour, reached into her warmer, endearing side when she delivered her speech at the Rutgers graduation ceremony;
‘Long before Living Single and Set It Off and Chicago, it was lessons I learnt here at home that made me who I am. Class of 2018, you don’t need to keep searching for a role model. No, you are the role model. Now, go out there and make a difference.’
4. Yvonne Chaka Chaka – Rhodes University
Singer, entrepreneur, humanitarian and South African gem Yvonne Chaka Chaka is now officially an honorary doctor of law (LLD), the degree having been conferred on her by Rhodes University. ‘Considered a role model throughout the African continent, she has demonstrated compassion for others throughout her career. Chaka Chaka has taught literacy, promoted the rights of women, and never stopped to work to protect children everywhere,’ the announcement on the Rhodes University news portal reads.
5. Kimora Lee Simmons
Baby Phat creator and fashion icon Kimora Lee Simmons recently obtained a business degree from the University of Hartford. According to Vibe, the former model had been teaching a class on entrepreneurship at the Barney School of Business when the bug to study further bit her, prompting her to enrol to study alongside her students. Upon earning her degree, she reportedly posted that ‘she’s passing the torch to her children and that it’s #nevertoolate to follow your dreams or goals.’
These women are not only role models, they are all mothers too. Seeing women from different generations receiving university degrees – honorary or not – is inspiration to us all.