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Whether it’s through a song that celebrates Black entrepreneurship or an initiative designed to uplift underserved youth, music visionary Pharrell Williams has continually used his platform to inspire, and the Virginia native was recently honored by an HBCU. According to The Virginian-Pilot, he received an honorary doctorate degree from Norfolk State University.

Williams served as the commencement speaker for the institution’s fall graduation ceremony. The Virginia Beach native spoke before nearly 400 graduates and reflected on the impact and influence the historically Black university, and the city of Norfolk has had on his journey.

He shared how the sounds of the school’s marching band moved him as a youngster and how although he didn’t attend the HBCU, he bared witness to the strong sense of community that existed within the school. Williams also imparted words of wisdom to students as they prepare to embark on the next chapter of their lives, emphasizing the importance of using the knowledge they’ve garnered at the institution to elevate the local community.

“I didn’t attend Norfolk State, but I was always present,” he said during his commencement speech. “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. Norfolk will not be the city that limits its peoples’ own potential, but instead, it will feed it.”

The mega-producer and songwriter was also named an honorary member of the school’s marching band.

News about the Grammy award-winning music artist’s honorary degree comes months after he unveiled plans to build a private school for low-income students in the city of Norfolk dubbed Yellowhab. The school was created to address socioeconomic inequities within the education system.

“If the system is fixed and unfair, then it needs to be broken,” said Williams. “We don’t want lockstep learning where so many kids fall behind; we want bespoke learning designed for each child, where the things that make a child different are the same things that will make a child rise up and take flight.”


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