Barbados’ pop-singing sensation Rihanna has received Harvard University’s Humanitarian of the Year Award.
“So, I finally made it to Harvard,” said the Grammy Award-winning artist — whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty — after receiving the Ivy League college’s 2017 Humanitarian of the Year award.
“Never thought I’d be able to say that in my life, but it feels good,” she added, stating that she was “incredibly humbled” to be named Humanitarian of the Year, a title bestowed upon such leaders as gender-rights advocate Malala Yousafzai and workers-rights activist Dolores Huerta.
Rihanna said her drive to help others began as a young girl in Barbados, where she would watch television commercials showing children suffering across the world, the ones that ask for a 25 cent donation to save a life, according to the Washington Post.
“I would say to myself, ‘when I grow up and I can get rich, I’m going to save kids all over the world,’” she said. “I just didn’t know I would be in the position to do that by the time I was a teenager.”
In the decade since, she has served as an ambassador to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Tap Project, which raises money for clean drinking water, and the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project, which helps children, particularly girls, get an education in over 60 developing countries, the Post said.
Through the Clara Lionel Foundation, it said Rihanna purchased radiotherapy equipment for the oncology unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados in 2012.
In 2016, she launched a global scholarship program through the foundation, which helps residents of Barbados, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Guyana, Jamaica and the United States go to college, according to the Post.
“People make it seem way too hard, man,” said Rihanna in her acceptance speech. “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,” she added. “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.
“But it starts with your neighbor, the person right next to you,” she continued. “You just do whatever you can to help in any way that you can.”
The Post said there was a soulful performance and prayer not by, but for Rihanna on Tuesday night, before the popstar received the award.
It said the dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana, gave her an awe-struck “woahhh” and students praised her chart-topping hits, telling Rihanna she had empowered children to “shine bright like a diamond” and inspired students to “work, work, work.”
“The pop star and fashion icon we all know as Rihanna has headlined award shows, fashion magazines and bejeweled flask memes,” said one student announcer, referring to photos of the singer at this year’s Grammy award show with a flask coated in tiny jewels. “Today we are writing a different headline, and that’s Rihanna the humanitarian.”
Rihanna grew up in Barbados and migrated to the United States at age 16 to begin a career in music, the Post said.
When she was 18, it said she founded the BELIEVE Foundation, a charity to help critically ill children.
Six years later, in 2012, it said she established the Clara Lionel Foundation, named for her grandparents.
The Post said Rihanna has used her wealth, influence and global reach to advocate for access to health care and education and speak for women and girls.