Dr. Sheryl Lee Ralph: ‘the better you can be to yourself, the better you can be to everyone’

Sheryl Lee Ralph had an extraordinary Mother’s Day last weekend. Not only was she celebrated by her two children, but she was celebrated by the whole of her alma mater, Rutgers University. Sheryl was the commencement speaker for the 2023 graduation that took place this past Sunday. The honor was even more special because Sheryl was among the first (and the youngest) women to graduate from Rutgers in 1972. She was unable to attend her own ceremony, however, because she was filming a peanut butter commercial that day. So this became her ceremony too when they acknowledged her with an honorary doctorate. During her speech, Dr. Sheryl gave some beautiful advice for the new grads, who she recognized had been through some rough times with Covid et al. She advised them to love who they saw in the mirror. She followed that with something that really resonated with me. Dr. Sheryl said, “the better you can be to yourself, the better you can be to everyone else.”

Sheryl Lee Ralph shared encouraging and powerful words while delivering the commencement speech for the class of 2023 at Rutgers University.

The Emmy-winning actress graduated from the college in 1975, becoming the youngest female graduate at the time. “In the fall of 1972, I became one of 400 teenage women chosen to form the first freshman class of women to break the gender barrier and usher co-education,” she said during the ceremony held on Mother’s Day.

“I could have just imagined what it was like when you all first came here to the campus as freshmen,” Ralph’s passionate message continued. “I mean, everything just looked so rosy and bright.”

“Then, our country and the world took a tragic and difficult turn,” the Abbott Elementary star explained. “Kobe died, George Floyd was killed, and then the world stopped and everything changed when COVID-19 … shut down the world. But you, you stayed the course, you never gave up, you found your way, you kept on studying, you kept doing the work. And you are here on graduation day!”

She also advised the graduating class to look in the mirror every day and “love what you see,” because “the better you can be to yourself, the better you can be to everyone else.”

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

Sheryl began her speech by belting out the first verse of Endangered Species, followed by recognizing Rutgers Alum, civil rights activist Paul Robeson 125th birthday. She also talked about how she began her college journey as pre-med and found her joy on stage instead. That’s the beauty of college, finding your passion. I started as Psychology and ended with a degree in History, I had no idea. Sheryl talked about that too, finding your passions and if you already know what your passion is, go chase it. But she reinforced that these graduates thrived during a time that particularly challenged them. Every point she made, she reminded them to turn their attention back on themselves. Then she told them to find *their* joy – not anyone else’s. It really was beautiful and a wonderful delivery.

I am fresh off my two nieces’ graduations. One was undergrad at Whittier who’s been accepted to the USC Masters program in social work. The other got her Masters from Vanderbilt in Nurse-Midwifery/Family Nurse Practitioner. You didn’t need those specifics, I’m just bragging because I am so proud of both of them and they deserve to be celebrated, like Sheryl suggested. Like Sheryl, I did not attend my own graduation. So I loved being a part of their ceremonies. I hope all the graduates going out in the world this year heed Dr. Sheryl’s advice and give that person in the mirror a big ol’ Atta Girl! (or guy). Because considering the years you’ve been in school, you deserve all the praise that’s heaped upon you.

You can watch Sheryl’s hooding and speech here.

— sheryl lee ralph (@thesherylralph) May 15, 2023

Photos credit: Cover Images, screenshots from YouTube and via Twitter

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