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Honorary doctor of letters: Tyler Perry
Portrait of Tyler Perry

Cinematic innovator Tyler Perry is the keynote speaker for Emory University’s 177th Commencement.

Tyler Perry is a world-renowned producer, director, actor, screenwriter, playwright, author, songwriter and entrepreneur. He is the creative force behind 17 feature films, 20 stage plays, seven television shows and several books, among them a New York Times bestseller. 

Born and raised in New Orleans, Perry experienced a childhood marked by poverty and abuse. By writing letters to himself as a form of self-care—advice he gleaned from Oprah Winfrey—Perry found the inspiration for his first play, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” which debuted in 1992.

At first, establishing a following proved elusive, but six years after Perry staged that first play, it sold out at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, portending audience allegiance of record-breaking proportions as his career continued. At its heart, Perry’s work is concerned with providing hope, offering humor, and inspiring his fans to, as he recommends, “leave space to dream.”

No stopping Madea (or her author)

A prolific artist, Perry wrote 13 plays during the next 13 years. His unforgettable character Madea — the God-fearing, gun-toting grandma — had her debut in plays “Woman Thou Art Loosed!” and “I Can Do Bad All by Myself.” She made the leap to film in 2005 with “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” which rose to number one in the U.S. and was the subject of 10 other films.

Perry took television by storm in 2007 with the TBS series “House of Payne,” the highest-rated first-run syndicated cable show. His follow-up effort, “Meet the Browns,” met similar success, and his “Haves and Have Nots” crime drama brought the Oprah Winfrey Network some of its highest ratings during its eight-year run.

As an actor, Perry has taken on roles as diverse as Admiral Barnett in “Star Trek” (2009), Colin Powell in “Vice” (2018), and Jack Bremmer in “Don’t Look Up” (2021).

With a passion for building communities, Perry in 2006 founded Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, and in 2015 he expanded operations with the acquisition of Fort McPherson. The studio encompasses more than 300 acres, is one of the largest production facilities in the country, and has brought more than 400 jobs to the city. 

Perry is known for his wide-ranging philanthropic work. Founded in 2006, the Perry Foundation empowers people who are economically disadvantaged to achieve a better quality of life. Its focus includes health and clean water, education and technology, arts and culture, as well as globally sustainable economic development.

Perry is the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2021 Oscars, the Governor’s Award at the 2020 Emmy Awards, and the People’s Champion of 2020 at the People’s Choice Awards. He made Time magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

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