Roosevelt High School honored its Broadway star, alumna Audra McDonald, on Saturday morning with an emotion-filled dedication of the school's theater in her name.
"This is all very overwhelming," McDonald told an audience of more than 100 in the very theater where her career began, previously known as the Roosevelt Theater for the Performing Arts.
Since graduating from Roosevelt in 1988, McDonald has earned six Tony Awards, one Grammy and an Emmy. Former President Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts, America’s highest honor for achievement in the arts, in 2015.
To welcome her in proper fashion, 14 Roosevelt singers performed "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and gave a lively performance of "Sing."
Principal Michael Allen welcomed McDonald back to Fresno and "home to Roosevelt," adding, "As we say here, once a Rough Rider, always a Rough Rider." Later, McDonald joined the audience in a Roosevelt spell-out.
She said walking into the building made her feel like a little girl again, as memories of past performances flooded her mind.
A hope McDonald has for the theater, she said, is for budding student performers to communicate compassion, passion and humanity.
"In these dark, confusing and divisive times, that is what we need more than anything to help bring that to life — we have to start communicating," she urged the audience.
Local elected officials welcomed McDonald, including Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, Congressman Jim Costa and Fresno City Councilmembers Esmeralda Soria and Oliver Baines.
Brand, a fellow Rough Rider, said of McDonald, "Your talent and your heart consistently challenge the status quo. You’re an inspiration both on the stage and off."
Fresno Unified Board President Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, who represents the Roosevelt area, said the name change of the theater has been in the works for some time now.
"Her name, which now appears on the front of this building, will be seen by thousands of people everyday as a reminder the impact she has left on this whole town," Jonasson Rosas said.
She also announced the theater and other school facilities will be undergoing a renovation, expected to begin the summer of 2020. Renovations include new stage curtains, improved stage finishings, accessibility and sound system improvements.
McDonald was in town for a rare Fresno performance (her last here was in 2011) as part of a tour promoting her new live album. She was scheduled to perform with the Fresno Philharmonic to a sold-out Saroyan Theatre Saturday night.
On Thursday, the city renamed M Street in front of the Saroyan "Audra McDonald Way." She received the street sign and a key to Fresno as part of Saturday's dedication.