Pharrell Williams’ powerful speech at NYU


Pharrell Williams was selected as the guest speaker at the New York University’s 2017 commencement, and the music artist used the opportunity to advocate gender equality and the need for improved education.

Speaking to the audience of students, parents and faculty at the Yankee Stadium on 17 May, Williams credited his mother for encouraging him to keep educating himself and went on to stress the importance of helping women overcome societal roadblocks.

“As you find ways to serve humanity, it gives me great comfort knowing this generation is the first that understands that we need to lift up our women,” he said. “Imagine the possibilities when we remove imbalance from the ether, because it’s imbalanced right now. Imagine the possibilities when women are not held back,” he said adding the need to unravel deeply entrenched laws, principles and misguided values that hold women and the human race back.

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“This is the first generation that navigates the world with the security and the confidence to treat women as equal. You guys and gals are the first ever. I’m going to say that again, you guys are the first ever. Our country has never seen this before. And it makes some people uncomfortable. But still I say, just imagine the possibilities.”

The Happy hitmaker, a former artist in residence at Tisch School of the Arts, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the university at the event. “I’m very grateful. My mom is a lifelong educator, so this is gonna be a really good look for me,” he told the audience.

Winding up his remarks, the 44-year-old singer-songwriter directed his words at possible future presidents in the crowd. “I know that somebody out there right now, in this class, just might occupy the White House one day,” Pharrell said. “And let me be clear, not red and not blue, but maybe purple, like NYU.”

Check out Pharrell’s complete speech below:

Thank you. Hi everybody.

I’d like to start by thanking President Andrew Hamilton, Trustees and the NYU students and faculty for welcoming me into your halls last year and letting me have an experience that I honestly could have never imagined.

And I want to thank all of you for this humbling experience today. This is major. It’s heavy. I am grateful. My mom is a lifelong educator — so this is gonna look good for me.

To be a part of a group like this is unimaginable. To speak on behalf of our group is an honour that I am not sure if I am qualified for. Their accomplishments… The body of work represented on this stage is staggering. We have history-makers. Miracle-workers in their own way. If their names aren’t on buildings yet, they will be.

I like to say that I am forever a student, and its people like this that I’ll forever learn from. They are fearless, boundless, multi-disciplined and multi-talented. They break down barriers and embody the focus and dedication this planet needs — even if, for Mark Kelly, it means leaving it from time to time.

Some may call them public servants, but their work is actually in service of humanity and standing with them here today… and it’s blowing my mind.

In this day and age, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s the people who serve humanity, that make our world go around. Most media and certainly social media would lead you to believe otherwise.

This group’s work doesn’t fuel gossip. Sadly, it doesn’t generate a lot of clicks amongst a sea of headlines designed to bait. Their work is often too important to be boiled down to just a quick headline. Their work has never been more important, yet as a society, we seem to celebrate less important achievements far more frequently. I am glad to be a part of a moment that recognises these people.

Think about it… these great scientists, public servants, and activists cannot be bothered with building their Instagram followers. Or how many views they get on Youtube… But they are the real influencers. Their work makes us healthier, safer, more enriched, and more intelligent. Their work is designed to improve the quality of life for all people, not just themselves.

They are not motivated by attention. But rather, they are motivated by the idea of creating change. For the better.

I personally find that incredibly inspiring. I hope you do as well.

NYU — the school you all chose to attend — is going out of its way to honour this distinguished group. What will they honour you for someday? What will they honour you for?

Speaking to you guys today has me charged up. As you find your ways to serve humanity, it gives me great comfort knowing this generation is the first that understands that we need to lift up our women. Imagine the possibilities when we remove imbalance from the ether. Imagine the possibilities when women are not held back. Your generation is unravelling deeply entrenched laws, principles and misguided values that have held women back for far too long and therefore, have held us all back. The world you will live in will be better for it.

This is the first generation that navigates the world with the security and confidence to treat women as equal. You are the first ever. Our country has never seen this before. It makes some people uncomfortable. But just imagine the possibilities.

Today is in many ways a celebration of higher education.

I am forever a student… I believe it is a trait we all share. Yet we live in a time when a great education is harder and harder to come by.

But like anything in life, if there is enough demand, somebody will supply it.

To the graduates, you might think your time in education is done, but after you leave here today, I am asking you to let your actions out there in the world… fuel the demand for better education. Engage and inspire — whether on an individual level or loudly within your communities. Talk about your accomplishments. Be humble, but not too humble. Don’t be invisible.

Sidebar… The days of being an anonymous activist or participant are over. How can we inspire if we are only behind the scenes? How will an anonymous donation ever inspire another? That was the way of previous generations. Don’t be like them.

Let your actions serve as an endorsement for education and watch the demand rise.

Shining a light on a group of individuals like these on this stage also helps fuel the demand. It’s why all of us standing here do what we do.

That same gene — those same feelings and adrenaline that fuel US — is inside all of you as well. Just like you, these recipients are brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. We all put our pants on one leg at a time. We all have a daily commute, but we do so with an eye towards something bigger. Serving humanity.

There is no humanity without education. There is no education without demand.

You are all walking endorsements for education. Embrace it.

Thank you again to the students and faculty at NYU. Thank you to these remarkable individuals that I am standing with here. For your service, leadership and inspiration. We are all forever grateful.

Thank you.

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