It’s not just her music that Rihanna is receiving accolades for.
The “Love on the Brain” singer headed to the hallowed halls of Harvard University on Tuesday, where she received the prestigious honor of 2017 Humanitarian of the Year by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.
Dr. S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation, introduced Rihanna, saying, “Rihanna has charitably built a state-of-the-art center for oncology and nuclear medicine to diagnose and treat breast cancer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados… It is for these philanthropic initiatives, and other acts of compassionate sharing, that the students and faculty of the Harvard Foundation chose to honor Rihanna with the 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award.”
“So I made it to Harvard!” the singer said as she took to the stage, where she spoke about the childhood that inspired her charitable work as an adult.
“I’m incredibly humbled to be acknowledged at this magnitude for something, in truth, I never wanted credit for,” Rihanna told the crowd. “I remember watching TV (as a child) and I would see commercials with children suffering in other parts of the world, the ones where you could give 25 cents and save a child’s life. I said, ‘When I grow up and get rich I’m gonna help 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.”
Looking chic in a gray, off-the-shoulder tweed dress and over-the-knee gray boots with her hair swept back, Rihanna challenged the crowd of students and fans to make a difference in their own lives.
“We’re all human, and we all just want a chance,” Rihanna said. “A chance at life, a chance at an education, a chance at a future, really. And at CLF [the Clara Lionel Foundation], our mission is to impact as many lives as possible, but it starts with just one. Just one. As I stare out into his 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 and expect nothing in return. To me, that is a humanitarian.”
Rihanna started CLF in 2012 in honor of her grandparents, Clara and Lionel Braithwaite. The organization funds education, health, and emergency response programs, and seeks to improve the life of young people around the world.
And while she didn’t attend college herself, Rihanna hinted that there’s always the possibility she’ll pursue further education.
“The truth the little girl watching those commercials didn’t know, was that you don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian. You don’t have to be famous, or college-educated,” Rihanna laughed. “I wish I was, especially today. I might come back!”
Before the big event, Rihanna went on a tour of the university and had lunch at Henrietta’s Table in the Charles Hotel. And according to the University staff, the Barbadian singer blended in with the students quite well.
“I can’t tell you what a gracious person she’s been to our students all day,” said Dr. S. Allen Counter, executive director the Harvard Foundation.
Rihanna’s Full Speech at Harvard (Text)
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.
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… Especially today. It’s true, I might come back but all right.
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.