Education

Howard University Commencement Honors Groundbreaking Women

WASHINGTON — Howard University, one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher learning, will honor four groundbreaking women during its annual commencement, including an award-winning journalist, the first African-American woman Episcopal priest, an acclaimed scholar and critic and the first African-American U.S. senator from California.

Journalist Maureen Bunyan, the Rev. Anna (Pauli) Pauline Murray, scholar Eleanor W. Traylor and Sen. Kamala Harris will each receive honorary doctorate degrees May 13 at the university’s 149th commencement.

“These remarkable honorees embody the spirit and aspiration that guides Howard’s mission of excellence in truth and service,” said Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick. “We are pleased to honor for the first time a distinguished panel comprised of all women. We also embrace and recognize the sterling contributions of women all over the world and certainly here at Howard University. These women dedicated their talents and lives to improving the world and all lives.”

Harris, who is also the commencement speaker, will along with Bunyan and Traylor receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, while Murray will be posthumously awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws. 

Howard University celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. A private, research university that is composed of 13 schools and colleges. Howard also produces more on-campus African-American doctorate recipients than any other university in the United States.

Its students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. Over the past 20 years, the university has produced four Rhodes Scholars, nine Truman Scholars, two Marshall Scholars, over 60 Fulbright recipients, 22 Pickering Fellows and one Schwarzman Scholar.

Harris, who received her bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1986, was the first African-American and first woman to serve as attorney general of California and the second African-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate. As attorney general, she helped secure the National Mortgage Settlement against five banks that gave $12 billion of debt reduction for the state’s homeowners and $26 billion overall. Other parts of the funding would go to state housing counseling services and legal help for struggling homeowners and forgiving the debt of over 23,000 homeowners.

During her two terms as district attorney of San Francisco, Harris started a program that gives first-time drug dealers the chance to earn a high-school diploma and find employment. In 2009, she wrote “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer.” She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.

Bunyan is an award-winning journalist who spent more than 40 years as a news anchor for Washington television stations WJLA and WUSA. She is a founder and board member of the International Women’s Media Foundation, and a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists. She was named “Washingtonian of the Year” in 1992 and has been inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Washington Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, “The Silver Circle” of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Broadcast Pioneers Club of Washington.

Bunyan also attended Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Harvard University Graduate School of Education, where she earned a master’s degree.

Traylor is a graduate professor of English at Howard and acclaimed scholar and critic in African-American literature and criticism. Her work has appeared in the form of chapter essays, biographies, articles, and papers on such writers as Larry Neal, Henry Dumas, Toni Cade Bambara, Margaret Walker, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Richard Wright. She is the author of “Broad Sympathy: The Howard University Oral Traditions Reader, The Humanities and Afro-American Literary Tradition” and cultural scripts for the Smithsonian Institution’s Program in Black American Culture. She received a Bachelor’s degree from Spelman College, a Master’s degree from Atlanta University and a doctorate from Catholic University, where she pursued her interests in African-American literature and mythology. She later received a Merrill Scholarship to the Stuttgarter Hochschule in West Germany and a research fellowship to study at the Institute of African Studies in Ghana and Nigeria.

Murray, an American civil rights activist, women’s rights activist, lawyer, Episcopal priest and author, was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1977. She was a quiet force behind some of the most iconic civil rights and social justice events of the 20th century. Thurgood Marshall regarded her book, “States’ Laws on Race and Color,” as the “bible” in crafting his arguments for famous Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case that ended legal segregation in public schools.

Along with Betty Friedan and 30 others, Murray was a founding member of the National Organization for Women. She graduated first in her class, but she was denied the chance to do postgraduate work at Harvard University because of her gender. She was the only female in her Howard University Law School class in 1944 and graduated first in her class.

She earned a master’s degree in law at University of California, Berkeley, and in 1965 she became the first African-American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Yale Law School. She died in 1985.

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