Artist and philanthropist Pharrell Williams was recently honored during his commencement speech at Norfolk State University. Get the full story from Megan Ambers at Blavity below.

Credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images

“I wanted to be able to make people feel the way Norfolk State’s band made me feel,” Williams said.

Over the weekend, Grammy award-winning musician and producer Pharrell Williams received a doctorate from Norfolk State University in Virginia.

University President Javaune Adams-Gaston presented Williams with the award and named Williams as an honorary member of the Spartan Legion, Norfolk State’s marching band.

Williams expressed his honor to be at the graduation and showed his appreciation to the 2021 graduates despite not attending Norfolk University. 

“I didn’t attend Norfolk State, but I was always present,” Williams said. “The pull of the green and the gold is strong. 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 believes Norfolk, Virginia, will continue to thrive in the future because its local and past heroes always return, sharing the story of Willis Augustus Hodges as an example.  

“Like many of you here today, he was an activist,” Williams said. “He was 14 years old, chased by an angry mob to Canada, and guess what? He still came back.” 

“So yes, there is something in the water, and it has been there for a long time,” he said.

Williams explained he expects the city to look entirely different in the upcoming five years, crediting Norfolk’s “inclusive, energized, pro-business community.”

“Norfolk will not be the city that limits its peoples’ own potential, but instead, it will feed it,” he said. “Five years from now, it will be a very different Norfolk.” 

Williams recently spoke out against injustice and police brutality in his hometown of Virginia Beach. In March 2021, Donovon Lynch, Williams’ cousin, was fatally shot by a police officer. The shooting was later determined to be justified by a grand jury. 

The producer, who expressed dissatisfaction about the city’s handling of his cousin’s case, announced that he would not bring his music festival, Something in the Water, back to the city. 

“That was a toxic situation that was hurtful to my family,” he said at the time. “If you’re cool with it going down like that, then you’ve got to do some soul searching.”

In addition, he urged the graduates to be intentional with their spending dollars and to support local businesses. 

“We are the emerging majority,” he said. “Don’t wait until Election Day. Vote with your wallets today, tomorrow, and the next day. Does the business owner look like you? Shop there.”  

“You have the ability to create the city that you deserve, the life that you deserve,” he added before closing his speech.