NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY/AP) — Grammy-winning musician Pharrell Williams on Saturday told the newest graduates of historically Black Norfolk State University to act like “the emerging majority” and help develop the area’s businesses and culture.
Proud family and friends packed Joseph G. Echols Memorial Hall for the celebration, not far from where the producer and rapper grew up in adjoining Virginia Beach.
“I didn’t attend Norfolk State, but I was always present,” Williams said. “I am honored to have made this part of my work, my story and still today, I can’t wait to see how far you amazing, impressive graduates of Norfolk State … how far you’ll go.”
Williams received an honorary doctorate from the school and was also named an honorary member of Norfolk State’s marching band — which brought him to tears.
Before the presentation, Willams said he remembered the band as a child and wondered why the band at his Virginia Beach high school lacked the same “cadence” as Norfolk State.
“I wanted to be able to make people feel the way Norfolk State’s band made me feel,” he said.
The in-person event was also special for graduates who worked so hard through the constant changes of the pandemic.
“Despite the trials of the coronavirus pandemic, you are victorious,” said Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, President of NSU.
In his speech, he also hinted at what he’s called toxicity in nearby Virginia Beach.
“Five years from now it will be a very different Norfolk because all of you possess the ability to dismantle the power structure with your big brains, big hearts, goodwill, empathy, and your wallet. You have the ability to create a city you deserve,” stated Williams.
Williams said the city of Norfolk will thrive because it recognizes how important it is to acknowledge past and local heroes: “Norfolk will not be the city that limits its peoples’ own potential, but instead, it will feed it.”
When the university announced earlier this week that Pharrell would be the speaker, they called him a “longtime advocate against racial injustice.”
Hundreds of students walked across the stage, closing this chapter of their lives, moving forward and helping create a better world for us all to live in.