By Kahina Ray
When most people think of Kanye West, they think of a grammy-winning, creative, outlandish, and arrogant rapper; what could this man possibly have in common with the beautiful, funny, and talented Tracee Ellis Ross? Tracee Ellis Ross is best known as Joan from the hit sitcom Girlfriends, and also for her amazing body. Besides the fact that they're both successful in the entertainment industry, and that they're both African American, what other commonalities could the two possess? I have the answer you've all been waiting for, here it is: doctorate degrees. Yes, you've read that correctly; both Tracee Ellis Ross and Kanye West hold honorary doctorate degrees (Ross's from Brown University and West's from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago). West received his degree on May 11th of this year, and not too much later Ross received her degree on May 25th; it was when Ross received her degree that the social media community became fed up and decided to express their opinions on an Instagram post made by the infamous Instagram account “the shade room”.
The post was nothing more than a picture of Ross smiling with her diploma, which the commentators felt she did not deserve. Such comments (from Instagrammers who'll remain anonymous) include: “Every week another celebrity is getting one of these, they're just passing them out now”, another stated, “At least she is an alumnus, makes sense to me. Now Kanye...that's a different story”. Someone even went so far as to say, “Whoever invented honorary doctorate degrees should be shot...”. My initial reaction was WOW. How could something so celebratory as receiving a degree become something seen as so negative? Most of the social media community that expressed their feelings via Twitter and Instagram felt as if neither Brown nor West earned or deserved their degrees, simply because there are people in school that are trying to obtain a doctorate degree and are struggling with classes, or with paying tuition, and of course neither celebrities had to deal with either of these to obtain their degree. They also bashed Mr. West because he's “too arrogant to receive a degree”. However, what the negative people seemed to forget was that the degrees are honorary, or in other words, they're not actual degrees! Honorary degrees have been given out dating all the way back to the 15th century, and they're given as a way of honoring a distinguished individual's contributions to a specific field or to society.
Kanye West's list of contributions to this society in the realm of pop culture, music, and fashion are non-explanatory, seriously. Just a few years ago, I took a course on pop culture and Kanye was a subject of study! The fact that there are already courses being taught that are surrounding his artistic abilities and musical genius, should say enough about his “deserving” of his honorary doctorate. Kanye has also won over 20 grammy awards for his music, has either designed or has had creative control over all of the artwork for his album covers, and is venturing ferociously into the fashion industry with the release of his sneakers he designed called “Yeezys”, and has modeled for top fashion designers such as Oliver Rousteing's Balmain.
Likewise, Tracee Ellis Ross is seen as one of the fiercest and one of the most unique actresses in the game. She has made her mark as a model in the early 1990's, has received a multitude of awards including 4 NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, and she's most recently gained a lot of clout amongst women for her hilarious and admirable hosting of the Black Girls Rock special, where she introduced her “Instagram famous” rap alter-ego,“T-Murda”. Ross received her Bachelors degree from Brown University, so it's more than befitting that they awarded her honorary doctorate in fine arts for the amazing accomplishments she's made since leaving the school in 1994.
Saying that either of these two entertainers did not earn and do not deserve their honorary degree is like saying that Martin Luther King Jr. didn't deserve the Nobel Peace prize. Did Tracee Ellis Ross struggle in school to receive her doctorate degree? No, because it's an honorary degree, and she deserves to be honored. Did Kanye West take the microphone from Taylor Swift and interrupt her acceptance speech? Yes, but that doesn't defeat the fact that he's a musical wizard and an accomplished artist, and therefore was honored at an art school (which happens to be in his hometown of Chicago), for his contributions to the art world. So instead of shining a negative light on the awarding of these honorary degrees, let's dim the light and just think of it as another of their many accomplishments, and congratulate them instead. Congratulations to Dr. West and Dr. Ross!