SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Carla Harris, a top executive at the investment bank Morgan Stanley, and a celebrated gospel singer, speaker and author, will be awarded the University of Notre Dame’s 2021 Laetare Medal.
The medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics, will be awarded at the university’s May 23 graduation ceremony.
“Harris 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 Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, in a March 14 announcement of this year’s award recipient.
“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,” he said.
The Laetare Medal is announced each year on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent.
Harris, vice chairman of wealth management and senior client adviser at Morgan Stanley, began her career at a time when very few of her colleagues were Black or women. She was chair of the Morgan Stanley Foundation from 2005 to 2014 and is a member of the boards for Harvard University and Walmart.
In 2013, she 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 is the author of Expect to Win and Strategize to Win, which she wrote to share what she has learned about pathways to career success.
Harris began singing at a talent show when she was 9 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 New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Apollo Theater.
She was born in Port Arthur, Texas, and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, where she attended Bishop Kenny High School. A guidance counselor there suggested that Harris not apply to Ivy League schools because of their competitiveness, but she applied to them anyway.
She attended Harvard University where she graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in economics; she later earned a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School.
In 2001, she married Victor Franklin at St. Charles Borromeo Church, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, where she remains an active parishioner. She and her husband have two daughters.
Established at Notre Dame in 1883, the Laetare Medal has been awarded annually 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 medal include: President John F. Kennedy; Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement; Walker Percy, novelist; Msgr. George Higgins, labor activist; and Sister Norma Pimentel, a Sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, Texas.