DALLAS — The University of North Texas bestowed Opal Lee with an honorary doctorate at its spring 2023 commencement ceremony that took place on Mother’s Day.

Lee led the successful charge in making Juneteenth a national holiday, earning admiration and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for her actions. She started her advocacy journey at 89. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.

Nicknamed the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” Lee also became the second Black Texan honored with a portrait on the walls of the state’s Senate chamber earlier this year in February.

More than 6,700 students were celebrated this past weekend at UNT’s commencement ceremony for earning their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.