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 honorary award and named Pharrell as an honorary member of the Spartan Legion, Norfolk State’s marching band. A very emotional moment for the Virginia Beach native.
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 stated.
During our 107th commencement on Saturday, Norfolk State honored keynote speaker Pharrell Williams with an honorary doctorate, then presented him with a Spartan Legion Marching Band uniform declaring him an honorary member of the Spartan Legion. Guess which honor moved him most. pic.twitter.com/U7WvOKPDyu
— Norfolk State University (@Norfolkstate) December 13, 2021
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, and the officer’s fatal shooting was deemed justified by a grand jury two weeks ago.
Williams, 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’s oceanfront.
“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.