2015 Commencement Speakers | Webster University

Past Commencement Speakers


Actress Jenifer Lewis ’79

Jenifer LewisJenifer Lewis, the St. Louis-born actress, singer, community activist and Webster University alumna (BA Theatre Arts, ’79), is adding “commencement speaker” to her repertoire. Lewis will address an estimated 12,000 Webster graduates and guests at the University’s 96th annual commencement ceremonies May 9 at St. Louis’ historic The Muny at Forest Park outdoor amphitheater.

Born and raised in the St. Louis county suburb of Kinloch, Lewis is the youngest of seven children. After graduating from Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts, she launched a successful entertainment career spanning more than 35 years and resulting in more than 200 television appearances, 60 films and four Broadway shows. 

Lewis will receive the Doctor of Humane Letters for her career accomplishments and many international community engagement efforts, most notably as an AIDS activist and mentor to children and as a Human Rights Campaign Ally for Equality.

“Jenifer Lewis’ remarkable personal and career achievements, as well as her deep commitment to serving the community, truly embody Webster’s mission,” said Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble, president of the University. “As we celebrate our Centennial year, we are thrilled to welcome home an alumna who exemplifies a life of leadership and service for our students.”

Currently, Lewis is cast opposite Laurence Fishburne in the number two comedy in America, ABC’s  “Black-ish.”  Her latest movie, “The Wedding Ringer,” starring Kevin Hart, is currently in theaters. Other film credits include “Think Like a Man” and “Think Like A Man Too,” “The Preacher’s Wife,” the “Sister Act” films, and “Beaches.” Disney fans recognize her distinctive voice as Flo in “Cars” and “Cars 2” and as Mama Odie in “The Princess and the Frog.”  Her television work includes six seasons on “Strong Medicine,”  “Meet the Browns,” “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “A Different World.” Lewis has co-starred opposite Meryl Streep in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s presentation of “Mother Courage and her Children” in New York City and earned two NAACP Theater Awards for her one-woman show “The Diva Is Dismissed.”  Last year, the multi-faceted entertainer received an electrifying standing ovation at Carnegie Hall while singing with the New York Pops orchestra.