On Tuesday, Rihanna accepted the Harvard Foundation award for Humanitarian of the Year.
“The pop star and fashion icon we all know as Rihanna has headlined award shows, fashion magazines and bejeweled flask memes,” one student said on stage, referring to the singer bringing a flask to the 2017 Grammys. “Today we are writing a different headline, and that’s Rihanna the humanitarian.”
“So I made it to Harvard,” the singer said with a grin before flipping her hair. “Never thought I’d be able to say that in my life.”
She continued to talk about her childhood and said that her drive to help others began when she was a young girl living in Barbados and would see commercials showing kids suffering around the world. Rihanna wondered how many 25 cents she would need to “save all the kids in Africa.”
“I would say to myself, ‘When I grow up, and I can get rich, I’m gonna save kids all over the world,'” Rihanna said. “I just didn’t know I would be in the position to do that by the time I was a teenager.”
At 18, she started her first charity to aid critically ill children, she said. Six years later, in 2012, she started the Clara Lionel Foundation, through which she purchased radiotherapy equipment for the oncology unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados. She has served as an ambassador to the UNICEF Tap Project and the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project.
And in 2016, Rihanna started a global scholarship program which helps people in Barbados, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Guyana, Jamaica and the United States go to college.
“People make it seem way too hard, man,” Rihanna said. “The truth is, and what that little girl watching those commercials didn’t know, is that you don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian. You don’t have to be rich to help somebody. You don’t gotta be famous. You don’t even have to be college-educated … I mean I wish I was … especially today … I might come back.”
Interrupted by cheers, she continued, “But it starts with your neighbor, the person right next to you. You just do whatever you can to help in any way that you can.”
Watch her speech above.