On Wednesday, Pharrell Williams received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from NYU and delivered the school’s commencement speech at Yankee Stadium. The former artist in residence at Tisch School of the Arts stressed the importance of gender equality and education during his inspiring speech.
Calling himself “forever a student,” he thanked the school, its students and faculty before paying respects to his mother. “I’m very grateful,” he said. “My mom is a lifelong educator, so this is gonna be a really good look for me.”
Later in his speech he emphasized the importance of gender equality and how the generation in attendance are in an historic position. “As you find 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. “Imagine the possibilities when we remove imbalance from the ether, because it’s imbalanced right now. Imagine the possibilities when women are not held back.
“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 – the human race. The world that you’re living [in] will be a lot better for it,” he continued. “This is the first generation that navigates the world with the security and the confidence to treat women as equal. You guys and gals are the first ever. I’m going to say that again, you guys are the first ever. Our country has never seen this before. And it makes some people uncomfortable. But still I say, just imagine the possibilities.”
He also discussed education and the need to continue to engage and inspire learning far beyond graduation. “The days of being an anonymous activist or participant are over. How can we inspire if we are only behind the scenes?” he asked. “How will an anonymous donation ever inspire another? That was the way of the previous generations. No disrespect, but don’t be like them. Let your actions serve as an endorsement for education and watch the demand rise.”
He concluded by addressing the current graduates, with rousing words that spoke to their potential. “I know that somebody out there right now, in this class, just might occupy the White House one day,” Pharrell said. “And let me be clear, not red and not blue, but maybe purple, like NYU.”