Need a reminder of why your voice matters? Look to the online commencement ceremony led by Michelle and Barack Obama, which saw Beyoncé step up to YouTube’s virtual lectern (alongside Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga and BTS). From sexism in the entertainment industry to how she turns criticism into motivation, here’s what you need to know about Beyoncé’s powerful message to the Class of 2020.
For all of us — the millions of high school or university graduates stepping out into a daunting world, seasoned activists forging new paths for society-wide change, or those finding their voice for the first time — 7 June 2020 was no ordinary Sunday.
“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,” says Beyoncé Knowles-Carter during YouTube’s ‘Dear Class of 2020’, a four-hour virtual graduation ceremony led by Michelle and Barack Obama and featuring appearances from K-pop group BTS, Lady Gaga, former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and Malala Yousafzai alongside many other changemakers.
Speaking straight to the hearts and minds of millions, the 38-year-old superstar and business leader’s words to the world are emphatically powerful. “Thank you for using your collective voice and letting the world know that black lives matter. 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,” Knowles-Carter says during her rousing almost 10-minute video address, which comes from a resoundingly personal place.
“One of the main purposes of my art for many years has been dedicated to showing the beauty of black people to the world. Our history, our profundity, and the value of black lives,” Knowles-Carter continues. “I did not get to experience college like some of you, or the campus parties that left you struggling the next day in class, although that could have been fun. But my parents did teach me the value of education, how to be authentic in my actions, and how to celebrate individuality and the importance of investing in myself. [...] You are achieving things your parents and grandparents never could imagine for themselves. You are the answer to a generation of prayers.”
From sexism in the entertainment industry to embracing failure as a part of success, and a powerful message to internet trolls — these are the 13 life lessons we can all learn from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s ‘Dear Class of 2020’ address.
Beyoncé on building her own company
“There was a pivotal turning point in my life when I chose to build my own company many years ago. I had to trust that I was ready, and that my parents and mentors provided me with the tools I needed to be successful. But that was terrifying.”
On sexism in the entertainment business
“The entertainment business is still very sexist. 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.”
On confronting racial disparity
“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. Many of the best creatives and business people, who although supremely qualified and talented, were turned down over and over as executives of major corporations because they were female, or because of racial disparity, and I’ve been very proud to provide them with a place at my table.”
Beyoncé on authenticity
“Every human being is born with a masterful gift. Don’t let the world make you feel that you have to look a certain way to be brilliant. And no, you don’t have to speak a certain way to be brilliant. But you do have to spread your gift around the planet in a way that is authentically you.”
On embracing your own power
“To all those who feel ‘different’. If you’re part of a group that’s called ‘other’, a group that does not get the chance to be centre stage, build your own stage and make them see you. Your queerness is beautiful. Your blackness is beautiful. Your compassion, your understanding, your fight for people who may be different from you, is beautiful. I hope you continue to go into the world and show them that you will never stop being yourself, that it’s your time now. Make them see you.”
On turning criticism into motivation
“Now if you’ve ever been called dumb, unattractive, overweight, unworthy, untalented, well so have I. Whatever you do, don’t let negativity of people projecting their own self-doubts on you deter you from your focus. I know those moments are painful, and you’re human, and it hurts like hell, but now is the time to turn those criticisms into fuel and motivation to become a beautiful beast.”
“Respect is everything. There’s no successful relationship without respect, nor a successful movement if the basic principle is not respect. The world will respect you as much as you respect yourself.”
Beyoncé on taking failure in your stride
“I’m often asked, ‘What’s your secret to success?’ The shorter answer: put in that work. There may be more failures than victories. 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. Surrender to the cards you are dealt. It is from that surrender that you get your power. Losing can be the best motivator to get you even bigger wins, so never compare yourself to anyone else. There will be wins and losses, there will be tears and laughter, you’ll feel the shades of life deeply.”
On overcoming hate
“With your wins, you may start to notice people spending a lot of energy trying to tear you down. Try not to take it personally. Unfortunately, it’s something that comes along with success. Whenever you feel like you’re not in control, or the world is against you, let that vulnerability motivate you into greatness. That’s how I found my true self. [...] I’ve been happiest when I let go and allow life to show me the next move. When you bet on yourself, you’re making an investment into your own future. When you choose to spend your valuable time thinking, speaking, typing negative thoughts, you’re investing in something that will give you absolutely no return in your investment.”
On being the voice for the voiceless and disagreeing productively
“Look what you’ve been able to do in the last 14 days. We’ve seen the power of the collective, we’ve seen what happens when we join for the same cause. Please continue to be the voice for the voiceless. 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 OK too. But we all have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable and change.”
On the self-improvement we can all undertake right now
“Whatever the world looks like in 10 years, in 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 — at work, at home, activism, spirituality — wherever you can find hope, follow it. And remember, you are never alone. Lean on that strength of togetherness, keep the collective strong.”
On the importance of action
“Stay focused. Don’t talk about what you’re going to do, don’t just dream about what you’re going to do, don’t criticise somebody else for what they’re not doing. You be it, be about it, be about that action, and go do it. Keep your eye on your intention. Don’t let any outside distraction or your own insecurity stop you from your goals. Embrace that struggle, surviving that struggle will strengthen you.”
“This is a crucial time in our history and in your life. The earth is ripping that Band-Aid off so we can really see our wounds, so we can acknowledge and nurture them. That’s when true healing begins. You can be that leader we all need. You can lead the movement that celebrates humanity.”
'This article originally appeared on Vogue UK'