Bishop Kenny Alumna Receives Prestigious Award

Carla Harris, Bishop Kenny High School Class of 1980 was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s 2021 Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics, at the 176th University Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 23.

Ms. Harris, is vice chairman of wealth management and senior client adviser at Morgan Stanley — as well as a celebrated gospel singer, speaker and author. Throughout her exceptional career, she has exemplified the highest ideals of American enterprise, championed the principle that opportunity should never be denied on the basis of gender or race and generously mentored countless rising leaders,” said Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. “Enriched by her gifts as a singer and public speaker, her work in the competitive world of banking is firmly rooted in her commitment to service, developing the next generation of leaders and her Catholic faith.”

Harris began her career at a time when very few of her colleagues were Black or women, and her trajectory has been steadily ascendant. She was chair of the Morgan Stanley Foundation from 2005 to 2014 and is a member of the boards for Harvard University and the Walmart Corp.

In 2013, Harris was appointed by President Barack Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council, an independent counsel to the president, Congress and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

 She understands her successes as a responsibility to help others, saying, “We are blessed so that we may be a blessing to others.”  Consistent with this belief, Harris has mentored hundreds of associates and led efforts focused on promoting women and people of color in business. She oversees Morgan Stanley’s multicultural client strategy and helped build the company’s Multicultural Innovation Lab, which brings together companies on an accelerator program for innovative tech startups led by multicultural entrepreneurs.

Among her many charitable endeavors, Harris has funded a permanent scholarship for academically gifted African-American students at Bishop Kenny High School for more than 30 years.  In 2011 the school honored Harris by naming a new performing arts addition to the campus in her honor.

Harris began singing at age 9 at a fourth-grade talent show, and progressed to Baptist and Catholic church choirs in her teens, Harvard’s renowned Radcliffe Choral Society, the St. Charles Gospelites and her own band, Rhythm Company. She has released multiple albums and produced and performed sold-out benefit concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Apollo Theatre.

Established at Notre Dame in 1883, the Laetare Medal was conceived as an American counterpart of the Golden Rose, a papal honor that antedates the 11th century. The medal has been awarded annually at Notre Dame to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Previous recipients of the Laetare Medal include Civil War Gen. William Rosecrans, operatic tenor John McCormack, President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, novelist Walker Percy, labor activist Monsignor George G. Higgins, Homeboy Industries founder Rev. Gregory Boyle, S.J., Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Executive Director Sister Norma Pimentel, M.J., civil rights and education leader Norman Francis, singer Aaron Neville and actor Martin Sheen.