NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – To a standing-room only crowd in Kean Hall on Tuesday, a top Hollywood actress wowed Tennessee State University students with a message of faith, hard work, belief in oneself and not allowing fear to keep them away from achieving their dreams.
Taraji P. Henson, an Academy Award nominee and multiple award-winning actress and stage performer, told students to be focused, find their passion and have faith in God to help them develop their given talent to the fullest.
“God didn’t give me more than he gave you,” said Henson, who credits her “strong belief” in God, and her parents for her success. “I never gave up even though other told me I wouldn’t make it. I saw the bigger picture and I went after it. Find your bigger picture and believe in yourself, that’s what successful people believe in.”
Earlier, the actress received a rousing welcome and shouts of “I love you,” as TSU President Glenda Glover presented her to the audience.
Henson, star of Lee Daniel’s major hit musical drama Empire as Cookie Lyon, and recipient of the 2015 NAACP Image Award as Entertainer of the Year, spoke about her early start as an engineering major at North Carolina A&T University, where she failed pre-calculus.
“I knew from the start that that (engineering) was not my passion, but at my parents’ and my best friend’s urging, I went in an area I knew I was not cut out for,” Henson said. “Somewhere inside me I knew theater was where I belonged.”
Henson transferred to Howard University where she studied theater. At the same time, Henson was working two jobs—one as a secretary at the Pentagon and another as a cruise-ship entertainer. At Howard, she honed her singing, dancing and acting skills, proudly earning herself a “Triple Threat Scholarship.”
“I followed my dream and went after the big picture, and that’s the beauty of an HBCU; they let you be what you want to be,” added Henson, as she reminded students about what she called the “added benefit” of attending an HBCU.
“At age 26 when I decided to go to Hollywood, they said I was too old. People will say all sorts of things about what you can or cannot do, but you have to be determined to go after your dream. Don’t let fear hold you back. if I had let fear hold me back you probably wouldn’t see me here before you.”
Henson, the single mother of a son, has lit up the big screen in numerous films, including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008 in which she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She starred in From the Rough (2014) portraying former TSU golf coach, Dr. Catana Starks, the first woman coach to win a NCAA Championship. Henson is a 2011 Emmy nominee for Best Actress in a movie or miniseries for Lifetime’s Taken From Me, and also starred as Detective Joss Carter in the highly rated J. J. Abrams CBS crime drama, Person of Interest.
Tonight, she will share her message of encouragement as the guest speaker, when Tennessee State University recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of women in our community at the Women of Legend and Merit Awards.
Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209
About Tennessee State University
With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 42 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.