Last week, it was announced that Harvard University was naming Rihanna its Humanitarian of the Year, citing both the college scholarship program she launched for international students continuing education in America, and the breast cancer diagnosis and treatment facility she built in Barbados.
Yesterday (February 28), just eight days after her 29th birthday, she went to the college’s campus to accept the Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award (as the first female singer ever to do so) and deliver her acceptance speech, where she touched on her desire to be helpful even as a child, her first charity, lives that have been lost along the way, and offered advice on how to be more giving. She also gave us this great GIF in the process.
Watch (at the 1:16:00 mark) and read her full speech below.
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, from 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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