‘This is where the doors open for you,’ comedian tells students
Alumna and comedian Sheryl Underwood left students motivated to make a difference by being the difference after her guest lecture at UIC.
Host of the CBS daytime show “The Talk,” Underwood gave students, staff and alumni advice for making the most of a college education and paving a path to success.
From stories about her college life to her beginnings as a businesswoman, Underwood said she wouldn’t have been able to make it without her experiences at UIC. “This is where you get opportunities, this is where all of the doors open for you,” she said during her talk Sept. 9 in Student Center East.
UIC student Mikita Lee was inspired by Underwood’s story.
“She was discussing how she never thought she could make it as far as she did, how she gained so many skills at UIC and applied them to her everyday life to become as successful as she has become,” said Lee, a senior in public health.
Underwood interned for Oprah Winfrey on WLS-TV and with WBBM radio as an undergraduate, when women of color were a minority in the entertainment industry.
“That really opened the door for me for radio — even if I didn’t see myself there, if there were no black females doing it,” Underwood said. “Because someone told me I could do it here at this school, I really believed I could do it.”
She graduated from UIC in 1987 with a degree in communication and theatre.
After graduation, Underwood managed to take her career from amateur comedian to a leading professional in the entertainment industry. “From the classes that I took here, I knew contracts, I knew what the Latin was inside of a law book, I knew a little bit about accounting and I knew about business structures.”
She is now the CEO and founder of Pack Rat Productions and the Pack Rat Foundation for Education, supporting programs that improve the lives of underprivileged youth.
A member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority since 1990, Underwood also credited her involvement with Greek life for helping her get ahead.
Lee, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, was surprised by how involved Underwood is in her Greek organization. “Being a famous comedian, that’s something that many people don’t see or do because they’re so busy,” Lee said.
Underwood was the sorority’s 23rd international president in 2008. She assembled the Zeta Phi Beta’s 2012 National Grand Boulé convention in Chicago for the first time since 1968.
Her involvement in Greek life led her to work with comedy kings Steve Harvey and the late Bernie Mac.
In 1994, Underwood was recognized as the BET Funniest Female Comedian on Comic View. She won the BET Comedy Awards’ Platinum Mic Viewers Choice Award in 2005.
Underwood reminded students to keep their heads high and follow their dreams. “In great obstacles, you have great success,” she said.
Lee says she’s ready to do just that.
“She gave many black students hope that we can all make it, and that we can make major changes in our lives and our community if we think big and work hard,” she said. “We are the future.”