Beyoncé gave a rare public speech over the weekend: a commencement address to high school and college graduates as part of YouTube’s Dear Class of 2020 streaming special, which also included appearances from former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama. And Bey didn’t shy away from discussing the Black Lives Matter protests taking place across the country or sexism in the music industry.
“You have arrived here in the middle of a global crisis, a racial pandemic, and worldwide expression of outrage at the senseless killing of yet another unarmed Black human being. And you still made it. We’re so proud of you,” she said.
“Thank you for using your collective voice and letting the world know that Black lives matter,” Beyoncé continued. “The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others have left us all broken. It has left the entire country searching for answers. We’ve seen that our collective hearts when put to positive action can start the wheels of change. Real change has started with you.”
The singer then talked about having to create her own table to sit at in the music industry after realizing there were not enough Black and female voices at the ones that existed.
“There was a pivotal turning point in my life where I chose to build my own company many years ago,” she said. “Not enough Black women had a seat at the table, so I had to go and chop down that wood and build my own table. Then I had to invite the best there was to have a seat. That meant hiring women, men, outsiders, underdogs, people that were overlooked and waiting to be seen.
“The entertainment business is still very sexist,” she continued. “It’s still very male-dominated, and as a woman, I did not see enough female role models given the opportunity to do what I knew I had to do. To run my label and management company, to direct my films and produce my tours, that meant ownership: owning my masters, owning my art, owning my future, and writing my own story.”
She added, “To all those who feel different: If you’re a part of a group that’s called other, a group that does not get the chance to be center stage, build your own stage and make them see you. Your queerness is beautiful, your Blackness is beautiful. If you’ve ever been called dumb, unattractive, overweight, unworthy, untalented, well, so have I. Yes, I’ve been blessed to have 24 Grammys, but I’ve lost 46 times. That meant rejection 46 times. Please don’t ever feel entitled to win, just keep working harder.”
In closing, she encouraged students to keep speaking out about the things that matter most to them. “Please, continue to be a voice for the voiceless,” Beyoncé said. “Never forget: We can disagree in a way that is productive to arrive at decisions that foster real change. And if you make a mistake, that’s okay too, but we all have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable and change. Whatever the world looks like in 10 years and 20 years, part of that is up to you. I urge you to let this current moment push you to improve yourself in all areas of your life.”
Watch her full commencement address, above.