While you may know Rihanna best for her dancehall tracks and fashion sense, today, she's getting honored for her charity work. Harvard awarded her its 2017 Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian of the Year Award.
During the ceremony, the audience got a brief intro to Rihanna's charity endeavors. At 18 years old, Rihanna established the Believe Foundation, which provides financial, medical, emotional support, and more to critically ill children.
"Rihanna has charitably built a state-of- the-art center for oncology and nuclear medicine to diagnose and treat breast cancer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados," Dr. S. Allen Counter, the Harvard Foundation’s director, said during his introduction.
Since then, she's served as a UNICEF ambassador, helping to bring clean water to children around the world. She also established the Clara Lionel Foundation Global Scholarship Program, named for her grandparents, which helps students attending college in the U.S. from Caribbean countries. It also works in tandem with the Global Partnership for Education and the Global Citizen Project, which helps children in over 60 developing countries.
Rihanna, clad in a chic gray ensemble, received a plaque before stepping to the lectern to give her acceptance speech.
"So I made it to Harvard," she began to deafening applause. "Never thought I'd be able to say it that in my life, but it feels good. I'm incredibly humbled by this."
She went on to explain that, as a kid, she saw commercials on TV asking for 25 cents to help children. She recalled thinking about how many quarters it would take to help all the kids in Africa. It was a sincere and humbling start.
Next, she recalled several cases that have stayed with her, including a young girl she knew who passed from leukemia and her own grandmother's passing from cancer.
"I see optimism. I see hope. I see the future," she said to the audience, "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. People make it seem way too hard, man. The truth is, and what the little girl watching those commercials didn't know, is that you don't have to be rich to be a humanitarian, to help somebody. You don't have to be famous. You don't have to be college-educated."
"It starts with your neighbor," she continued, "you just do whatever you can to help in any way you can."
She offered the audience a test, something that the Harvard student body should be familiar with. "I want to challenge each of you to make a commitment to help one person, one organization, one situation that touches your heart," she said.
She ended her speech with a sentiment from her late grandmother: "If you got a dollar, there's plenty to share."
Previous recipients of the award include Ban Ki-moon, Malala Yousafzai, and James Earl Jones.