The Happy singer had recent college graduates feeling like a room without a roof. Last week, Grammy Award-winning artist, Pharrell Williams, gave the commencement speech at Yankee Stadium to NYU graduates, where he shared vision of a better future. In his address, he praised the audience’s dedication to education and women’s equality.
Pharrell’s no stranger to NYU. Last year, he was named Artist in Residence to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, sharing his work and insights with students firsthand. When he returned to NYU this year, he received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degree from the college. In his commencement speech, he noted that he is “forever a student,” just like every other graduate in the crowd.
The most notable moment in Pharrell’s speech was his call for gender equality and the joy he takes in seeing a generation ready to make women’s equality a priority. “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,” he said.
Daring the graduates to dream bigger, he prompted: “Imagine the possibilities when we remove imbalance from the ether. Imagine the possibilities when women are not held back.” He implied that keeping women from reaching their full potential robs society of the innovation, creativity, and ingenuity that propels humanity forward, saying, “Your generation is unraveling deeply entrenched laws, principles, and misguided values that have held women back for far too long and therefore, have held us all back.”
Pharrell celebrated the audience for their readiness to see women treated as equals in communities across the nation and the globe. “This is the first generation that navigates the world with the security and confidence to treat women as equal. You are the first ever,” said the Happy singer. “Our country has never seen this before. It makes some people uncomfortable.”
In that moment, Pharrell might have been thinking back to his work on Hidden Figures, a film about a black female mathematician’s pivotal contributions to NASA in the 1960s. Talking to Allure about the film last year, he said, “These women were victims of error and circumstance. We look back in history, and women’s contribution to any kind of advancement was always discounted, dismissed, or overlooked, erased, not acknowledged.”
Like his work on Hidden Figures, Pharrell expressed his faith that the graduates would throw their efforts towards projects which help others.
“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,” Pharrell said. “They are not motivated by attention. But rather, they are motivated by the idea of creating change for the better.”
The speech of the long-time supporter of gender equality reached an audience record-breaking in size, with 32,000 people attending the ceremony according to an NYU newspaper. With so many people hearing his uplifting message, who knows what positive change is on the horizon?
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