Pharrell Williams surprised the graduating class of Virginia HBCU Norfolk State University with a virtual commencement speech, while students were forced to celebrate their achievement from home, due to social distancing guidelines.
“There’s so much going on in the world right now, but we are gonna get through this,” the Virginia Beach native said during his speech. “... I believe we need moments of disruption to open our eyes and gain new self-awareness.”
Pharrell also spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacting African Americans — a sentiment he also expressed last month while virtually appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
“Right now, there are high-ranking public officials trying to tell our story, saying that we don’t care about our health,” he explained. “They suggest that you, me, Black people, people of color, don’t care enough to take care of ourselves. And because of that, we’re more likely than anyone else to fall victim to this pandemic. They stand at podiums, with the whole world watching, saying that we — you and me — are to blame, conveniently forgetting hundreds of years of sub-par treatment.”
Pharrell also saluted the university’s march band Spartan Legion for inspiring him to learn instruments and make music. The band was scheduled to perform at this year’s Something in the Water Festival, which was unfortunately canceled due to the ongoing pandemic.
“To be able to come and speak to this incredible institution and to also know that Norfolk State was going to perform at the Something in the Water Festival — that would’ve been like closing my eyes and really actually seeing my childhood dreams come full circle,” Pharrell said.
Despite having to celebrate their graduations from home this year, students were delighted and appreciative of Pharrell’s virtual appearance.
“His message inspired me to keep going and striving for the highest regardless of the circumstances,” communications senior Patsy Douglas told CNN. “His words and affirmation to the class of 2020 will be forever carried in all of our hearts.”
Watch Pharrell’s speech below.