Solange Knowles has come a long way. All the way to Harvard, in fact.
The Grammy-winning singer/songwriter headed to Sanders Theatre at Harvard University on Saturday to receive the prestigious 2018 artist of the year award from the Harvard Foundation.
“I feel so incredibly humbled and beyond grateful that you have allowed me to do this work,” said Knowles, whose mother Tina Knowles Lawson sat in the audience cheering on her daughter. “And to now be rewarded for that, it just blows my mind.”
While onstage to accept her award, the 31-year-old didn’t shy away from opening up about her past, sharing her sometimes difficult journey from teen mother to successful artist.
“I was 17 when I became pregnant with my son Julez. At 18, he was a newborn and we were living in Moscow, Idaho, supporting his father’s [Daniel Smith Jr.] dreams of playing football and getting an education,” said Knowles. “My dreams were to write music and create work that could express the inner workings of my soul.”
But due to the limitations of her life at the time, Knowles said she “made myself believe I didn’t want to be an artist.”
“I was content living in Idaho, with a GED education, writing for other artists and commercials,” she told the crowd. “I didn’t want to speak or feel worthy until I had something to say.”
It was then that Solange felt confident to step out of the shadow of her family — including sister Beyoncé — and record her own music.
“I began to shape and mold the way that I viewed the world, while the world continuously tried to shape and mold me,” said Knowles, dressed in a low-cut pinstripe suit. “I had to start being honest with myself and with the world in creating the work and spaces that I wanted to see and be a part of.”
Solange concluded her speech by encouraging the audience of students to live the lives they’re meant to, because “staying silent and letting someone else create the version of your truth can be a slow and painful death itself.”
“Our worth cannot be invested in the moment someone tells us that we are worthy. I feel rewarded by each and every one of you, and the people every day that have shared their stories and their experiences with me, and I can’t thank you enough for those awards,” said Knowles. “I can’t hold them, but I hold them in my heart every single day.”
Posting on Instagram, Saturday, Knowles wrote, “Today truly brought me so much joy, my heart is so full.”
“To be selected [Harvard Foundation’s] ‘artist of the year’ by these tremendous, glorious students I met today … to witness all of the greatness they put into the world, and then they deem me worthy of this moment, fills me with such great gratitude,” she wrote. “I’m grinning from ear to ear because this beautiful gal’s name is [Solange] too, and she is a wonder!”
She concluded, “Thank you to all of the students who made today one I will hold close forever more!”