Last week, Rihanna was named the 2017 Harvard University Humanitarian of the Year. On Tuesday, the singer visited the college’s campus to accept the honor, beaming throughout her acceptance speech to an adoring and enthusiastic crowd while she discussed the Clara Lionel Foundation she started in 2012 and the rest of her humanitarian work.
Rihanna, in a Monse pantsuit no less, kicked off the speech by explaining what sparked her philanthropic interests. When she was a young child growing up in Barbados, she remembers being impacted by TV commercials about children suffering in Africa. “And I would say to myself, ‘You know, when I grow up, when I can get rich, I’ma save kids all over the world,’” she told the audience. “I just didn’t know I would be in the position to do that by the time I was a teenager.”
So, when Rihanna turned 18, and was already an accomplished singer in America, she started her first charity, the Believe Foundation. From there, she went on to work with several other charitable organizations, and ultimately founded the Clara Lionel Foundation in honor of her grandparents. That foundation, by the way, will be recipient of a portion of the proceeds from the sale of “We Should All Be Feminists” T-Shirts at Dior stores starting around the world, starting in May.
To Rihanna, being a humanitarian means selflessly helping someone else. “I know that each and every one of you has the opportunity to help someone else. All you need to do is help one person, expecting nothing in return. To me, that is a humanitarian,” Rihanna said. She then encouraged the crowd of young college students to get involved with charity work. “And today I want to challenge each of you to make a commitment to help one person: one organization, one situation that touches your heart,” she said. “My grandmother always used to say, ‘If you’ve got a dollar, there’s plenty to share.’”
Perhaps the best part of the ceremony was after Rihanna’s speech, when an adorable young boy proudly presented Rihanna with a bouquet of flowers. Check out a few pictures from the event below, followed by Rihanna’s speech in full (as transcribed by Elle):
So I made it to Harvard. Never thought I’d be able to say that in my life, but it feels good. Thank you, Dr. Counter, thank you to the Harvard Foundation, and thank you, Harvard University for this great honor. Thank you. I’m incredibly humbled by this, to be acknowledged at this magnitude for something that in truth I’ve never wanted credit for.
When I was five or six years old, I remember watching TV, and I would see these commercials and I was watching other children suffer in other parts of the world, and you know the commercials were [like], “You can give 25 cents, save a child’s life,” you know? And I would think to myself, like, I wonder how many 25 cents I could save up to save all the kids in Africa. And I would say to myself, “You know, when I grow up, when I can get rich, I’mma save kids all over the world.” I just didn’t know I would be in the position to do that by the time I was a teenager. [Laughs.]
At 17 I started my career here in America, and by the age of 18, I started my first charity organization. I went on to team up with other organizations in the following years and met, helped, and even lost some of the most beautiful souls, like six-year-old Jasmina Anema who passed away in 2010 from leukemia, her story inspired thousands to volunteer as donors through DKMS. Fast-forward to 2012, and then my grandmother, the late Clara Brathwaite, she lost her battle with cancer, which is the very reason and the driving force behind the Clara Lionel Foundation. We’re all human. And we all just want a chance: a chance at life, a chance in education, a chance at a future, really. And at CLF, our mission is to impact as many lives as possible, but it starts with just one. Just one.
As I stare out into this beautiful room, I see optimism, I see hope, I see the future. I know that each and every one of you has the opportunity to help someone else. All you need to do is help one person, expecting nothing in return. To me, that is a humanitarian.
People make it seem way too hard, man. The truth is, and what I want the little girl watching those commercials to know is, you don't have to be rich to be a humanitarian. You don’t have to be rich to help somebody. You don’t gotta be famous. You don’t even have to be college-educated. I mean, I wish I was, I’m not saying you know… [Crowd laughs.] Especially today. [Laughs.] It’s true. I might come back, but all right. [Crowd cheers.]
But it starts with your neighbor, the person right next to you, the person sitting next to you in class, the kid down the block in your neighborhood. You just do whatever you can to help in any way that you can. And today I want to challenge each of you to make a commitment to help one person: one organization, one situation that touches your heart. My grandmother always used to say, “If you’ve got a dollar, there’s plenty to share.” Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It was my honor.
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