It's Rihanna's world and we are all just living in it. Last year, the singer released Anti, an album with both mainstream and critical success. She was also the 2016 recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, putting on an epic, career-spanning performance at the VMAs before accepting the honor. Yet, somehow, in between recording, performing, award shows, and clothing design, Rihanna finds time to spearhead major philanthropic efforts. Rihanna is a quiet philanthropist; her charity work is deeply personal and not something done for accolades. However, upon receiving the massive honor of the Harvard Humanitarian of the Year, Rihanna did end up in Cambridge to accept the award. And she accepted it with a speech that was not only funny, but included a hopeful message about the future.
After being honored by several Harvard students and receiving the Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award, Rihanna gave a quick speech. Her address advised for every individual to work to improve their communities, and while it was a moving tribute to charity, it was punctuated by the singer's usual humor. When she first stood up at the lectern she joked, "So, I made it to Harvard," and stroked her ponytail triumphantly.
The singer quickly put all silliness aside, and continued, “I’m incredibly humbled by this. To be acknowledged at this magnitude, for something that, in truth, I’ve never wanted credit for.”
She then told a moving story about growing up wishing she could help people, and what a great honor it was to start charity work so young. At just 29 years old, Rihanna has already logged over a decade's worth of charitable work, both independently and through partnerships with bigger organizations. She runs the Clara Lionel Foundation and works with Global Citizen Project to promote education in Caribbean countries, and, oh yeah, she also built a cutting-edge oncology and nuclear medicine center to treat breast cancer in Bridgetown, Barbados.
While Rihanna has used her good fortune to help others, the inspiring message behind her speech was that no matter who you are, or how wealthy, it is possible to make a difference. "At CLF our mission is to impact as many lives as possible, but it starts with just one," she told the audience. "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.”
Rihanna's charity work is wide-reaching, but she is particularly committed promoting education and healthcare in her home island of Barbados. Her work in the country, and around the world, is helping lead the way to a better and healthier future. While she promotes these efforts under the radar and has shied from the spotlight regarding philanthropic work, she embraced the chance to use this speech to spread even more goodwill. For anyone who does charity work and needs reaffirmation that their hard work and efforts do matter and are making a tangible difference, this speech is an uplifting reminder to keep fighting the good fight.
The whole ceremony at Harvard is online, and Rihanna's speech begins at 1:16:00 in the stream.
While it is really beautiful for a celeb like Rihanna to use their superstar status to help others, she focused the speech on the impact we can all make. RiRi concluded the call to action with wise words from her family. "My grandmother always used to say, 'If you got a dollar, you have plenty to share'".