Rihanna accepted Harvard University’s 2017 Humanitarian of the Year award with a moving but often funny speech at the school’s Sanders Theatre Tuesday.
The pop star opened her speech (which begins at 1:14:00) with a cheeky flip of her ponytail and the remark, “So I made it to Harvard,” before discussing the roots of her humanitarian instincts. Rihanna recalled the commercials she saw as a kid that asked people to donate 25 cents to help children in need. “I would say to myself, ‘When I grow up, and I can get rich, I’m gonna save kids all over the world,'” Rihanna said. “I just didn’t know I would be in the position to do that by the time I was a teenager.”
During her speech, Rihanna honored the people that inspired her various efforts, including a young girl who died of leukemia at age six and the singer’s own grandmother, whose battle with cancer was the driving force behind the Clara Lionel Foundation.
“All you need to do is help one person, expecting nothing in return,” Rihanna said. “To me, that is a humanitarian. People make it seem way too hard, man. The truth is – and what the little girl watching those commercials didn’t know – is that you don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian, to help somebody. You don’t have to be famous. You don’t have to be college-educated.”
In closing, Rihanna encouraged the crowd to commit to helping one person, one cause, in any way possible. She then passed on a poignant piece of advice from her grandmother: “If you got a dollar, there’s plenty to share.”
Rihanna received Harvard’s Humanitarian of the Year Award in recognition for her work to improve cancer treatment in her home country of Barbados and for setting up a college scholarship to bring Caribbean students to study in the United States.