See Viola Davis' Powerful Harvard Award Acceptance Speech

"Your job as an audience is to bear witness ... to come open and willing to transform," says Oscar-winning actress

Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis was awarded the Artist of the Year Award at Harvard University on Saturday, where the Fences actress gave a rousing speech. Previous Harvard award recipients include Quincy Jones, Andy Garcia, Matt Damon, Salma Hayek and Shakira.

"Art – it's a very sacred place – the stage and the screen," Davis said. She views acting as a healing art form that helps people "feel less alone," including herself. "It's the reason why, for so many years, I did it."

For Davis, giving people the chance "to be seen" comes from a personal place. The actress, who attended Rhode Island College and Juilliard, said she felt frustrated because she wasn't heard as an artist. "I spent so many years at Juilliard just wanting to beat someone up," Davis said. "I felt like my voice as an artist was being stifled ... Your job as an audience is to bear witness ... to come open and willing to transform."

In addition to the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Davis received the Critics' Choice, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and British Academy of Films and Television Arts awards for her portrayal of Rose Maxson in the screen adaptation of August Wilson's play, Fences.