“So I made it to Harvard!” Rihanna said playfully with a swing of her ponytail. “Never thought I’d be able to say that in my life, but it feels good.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the pop singer accepted the 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. Students packed into Sanders Theatre to witness the 29-year-old singer give a speech full of humor, down-to-earth charm and heart. She received a standing ovation.
Each year, the Harvard Foundation of Harvard University presents the Humanitarian Award to an individual whose works or deeds have “served to improve the quality of lives” and inspired people to “greater heights,” according to the Harvard Foundation website.
Previous honorees include actor James Earl Jones, gender rights advocate Malala Yousafzai, and the late tennis player and activist Arthur Ashe.
Rihanna, full name Robyn Rihanna Fenty, hails from Barbados and has made a point of giving back to her roots. Her charitable initiatives include building 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. She’s also launched the nonprofit Clara Lionel Foundation Global Scholarship Program, named after her grandparents, to benefit students from Caribbean countries while attending college in the U.S. Additionally, she is a supporter of the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project, which helps provide children with access to education.
Watch Rihanna’s speech below courtesy of Rihanna Online. Go here to watch the entire event courtesy of the Harvard Foundation.
This is the just latest achievement in Rihanna’s increasingly multifaceted career. Best known for her infectious catalog of pop and R&B hits, the singer has launched popular clothing, shoe and perfumes lines, and has also begun to tackle acting. She has an upcoming appearance on the A& E Network’s Bates Motel and a role in the upcoming all-female version of Ocean’s Eleven. Last week Billboard reported the Bajan singer surpassed Michael Jackson’s record with her 30th top ten hit “Love on the Brain.”
During her speech at Harvard, the “Diamonds” singer said as a child she dreamed of being in the position she’s in today. Her desire to help those in need started young. She recounted how she used to see impoverished people in TV ads and promised that if she became rich, she’d help them.
But she reminded the students in the audience that they didn’t have to be rich or famous to lend a helping hand. “All you need to do is help one person, without expecting anything in return,” she said. “To me that is a humanitarian. People make it seem way too hard, man.
“What that little girl watching those commercials didn’t know is that you don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian, you don’t have to be rich to help somebody. You don’t have to be famous, you don’t even have to be college educated…My grandma used to say, ‘If you have a dollar, then you have plenty to share.’”
Information for this story was provided by Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. Paige Elliott also contributed to this story.