March 15, 2023
On "Abbott Elementary," Quinta Brunson plays Philadelphia public school teacher and University of Pennsylvania alumna Janine Teagues. Life will soon reflect art, as the university has tapped the show's creator and star to address future educators during graduation festivities.
Emmy-winning, Philly native Brunson will act as keynote speaker during Penn's Graduate School of Education commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 13, the school announced Tuesday.
"Even though we tune in each week for 22 minutes of laughter, Brunson never fails to remind us of the serious consequences of failing to invest in our public schools and the inspiring efforts of teachers across the country," said Pam Grossman, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.
Brunson is also the head writer and executive producer of "Abbott Elementary," now in its second season (and already renewed for a third). The mockumentary-style comedy set in Philadelphia has broken viewership records for ABC and earned many of the television industry's top honors.
The show has addressed modern educational topics such as lack of supplies and funding, gifted and talented programs, school leadership and charter schools. It also has featured uniquely-Philly institutions like Gritty and Mural Arts Philadelphia.
"Abbott Elementary" was largely inspired by Brunson's youth. She was born and raised in Philadelphia, in a multi-generational household that bonded over watching sitcoms together. Brunson attended Philadelphia public schools, and her mother was a kindergarten teacher in West Philly.
While Brunson's onscreen character graduated from Penn, the actress actually attended Temple University before dropping out to pursue a career in comedy.
"(My parents) still want me to walk across that stage and receive a piece of paper," Brunson told Cosmopolitan in 2016. "Maybe I’ll try to get an honorary degree."
While Brunson has not yet received that honorary degree, she has earned a host of prestigious awards so far during her meteoric rise launched by "Abbott Elementary," which premiered in 2021.
Brunson made history at the 2022 Emmys as the youngest Black woman to ever be nominated for comedy writing, a category she won, and was the first Black woman to secure three comedy nominations in the same year. She has also been nominated for and earned several awards at the Critics' Choice Awards, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and NAACP Image Awards.
Last year, Brunson was named one of the “100 Most Influential People” by Time magazine and included on Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” list. She was also one of People magazine's "People of the Year." Brunson will soon make her hosting debut on "Saturday Night Live."
Brunson isn't the only celebrity participating in Penn's 2023 graduation ceremonies.
Idina Menzel — a Tony-winning actress, singer-songwriter, producer and author — will speak during Penn's main commencement ceremony on Monday, May 15.
Menzel is best known for her roles as Elphaba in Broadway's "Wicked," for which she won a Tony in 2004, and Elsa in Disney's "Frozen," which featured the 2014 Oscar-winning song "Let It Go." Menzel is also one of six individuals receiving an honorary doctorate from the university.
Full information about Penn's 267th commencement, which will take place on Franklin Field, can be found online.