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Washington Public Schools Head Receives GU Honorary Degree

Kaya Henderson Honorary Degree

District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS'92, G'07) says the affirmations she received from her teachers, family and friends helped her realize she could accomplish a great deal in life.

April 23, 2012 – District of Columbia Public Schools (DSPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS'92, G'07) told a Georgetown audience Saturday that she hopes to fill D.C. classrooms with the kind of “highly effective, caring, dedicated teachers” she grew up with as a child.

Henderson came to Georgetown to receive an honorary doctorate degree.

“My teachers are here,” said Henderson, tears streaming down her face. “These are the group of people who stood before me every single day. They were [to me] what I’m trying to achieve here in Washington, D.C.”

Indelible Impression

She noted that her teachers from the fourth, ninth, and tenth grades were in the audience along with an assistant principal and a cheerleading coach from her hometown of Mount Vernon, N.Y.

The DCPS chancellor thanked that group as well as family, friends and colleagues from Georgetown, Teach For America, The New Teacher Project and DCPS – many of whom filled Gaston Hall to watch her receive her Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

“I stand on this stage today only because of the people sitting here in this room,” she explained. “Each and every one of you has directly or indirectly made an indelible impression on my life.”

Fundamental Piece

Henderson, who was named one of the “World’s 7 Most Powerful Educators” by Forbes magazine, has served as Teach For America’s national director of admissions and as executive director of its D.C. office.

Teach For America is a nonprofit whose mission is to improve education for children in poor communities or those with limited resources.

“The piece of the world that Kaya has chosen to affect is fundamental to the strength, progress, prosperity of our city, country and our interconnected global society,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “It's nearly impossible to speak with Kaya about education without understanding that her work is motivated by a deep sense of personal purpose and a clear, poignant set of values.”

incredible week

For Henderson, the honorary degree ceremony capped off what she called an “incredible week” – including the rollout of DCPS’s five-year plan for public schools, which she said is being well received. 

She also announced this week that DCPS has been awarded $4.5 million grant to work on kindergarten through third-grade literacy in six of the 10 eligible D.C. schools.

Henderson notes that her late mother, Kathleen Henderson, also an educator, and her grandmother, Helen Henderson, were important supporters from the very start.  

She recalled getting dressed every morning as a little girl and being told, “You know Kaya, you are somebody.”

Great Expectations

“And I would have to repeat, ‘I am somebody.’ If I didn’t say it loudly and strongly, she’d say, ‘Say it again,’ ” Henderson added.

Her grandmother, Helen, is 90 and in fragile health, so she couldn’t make it to the ceremony.

“Every single day I was encouraged,” she said. “Every single day the expectation was set that, despite our humble beginnings, … I would do something great, something world-changing.”

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