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Vanessa Williams receives diploma from Syracuse

Vanessa-Williams

Vanessa Williams

Chris Pizzello / AP Enlarge

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Vanessa Williams has received her bachelor of fine arts degree from Syracuse University, nearly 25 years after she dropped out to become the first black Miss America.

The 45-year-old actress-singer, who stars in ABC's "Ugly Betty," also delivered the convocation address Saturday to graduates of Syracuse's College of Visual and Performing Arts.

She encouraged her fellow graduates to "treasure this moment." ''These days are irreplaceable and are the beginning of the rest of your life," she said, according to the Web Site of The Syracuse Post-Standard.

When she accepted her diploma, Williams raised it to show her mother and children.

Williams attended Syracuse's drama department as a musical theater major from 1981-1983. She earned the remaining credits for her degree through industry experience and performances on stage and screen.

She became the first black Miss America in 1983, but surrendered the title in July 1984 after Penthouse magazine published nude, sexually explicit photographs of her taken several years earlier.

Over her career, Williams has sold more than 4 million albums, won critical praise for her performances on Broadway, made dozens of TV appearances and starred in several movies.

She has won a Tony, received two NAACP Image Awards and nine Grammy nominations.

In 1996, Williams received the George Arents Pioneer Medal, the university's most prestigious alumni award.

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