The musician struck a positive tone while speaking to students at the University of Virginia

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Pharrell Williams returned to his home state to give the graduating class of the University of Virginia a rousing speech that asked them to use their education to help others and change the world for the better.

The “Happy” singer, who grew up in Virginia Beach, spoke about his love for the state and the Virginians who have gone on to make an impact in business, government and art. But even with these positive contributions to the world, Virginia still has a “complicated history,” Williams said, alluding to slavery and the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

“Virginia has continued to produce icons, and I know that there are a bunch of future icons in this room waiting to reveal yourself,” Williams, 46, said at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville on Friday.

“But my deep love for Virginia and for its people does not blind me to the fact that there is also troubled water here,” he added. “In fact, my love for Virginia heightens my awareness that Virginia has a complicated history, a history that continues to shape the present.”

Despite this history, Williams is confident the next generation of leaders will be using their education to make life better for others and separate themselves from the past.

“The world needs you. In fact, I think the world could use a little more Virginia,” he said to cheers.

Williams also brought up Alabama’s controversial measures to ban abortions.

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Pharrell Williams
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“We ended slavery — you would think we’d be tired of telling other humans what they can and cannot do with their bodies,” he said. “Haven’t we learned our lessons about trying to govern human bodies?”

Before ending his speech, Williams asked the graduating students to spread positivity and help others wherever they can — something he has tried to do all his career, he explained.

“I personally believe that positivity is something that we should bottle up,” Williams said, “because the world as we know it, and we see it, needs it… The good thing is your generation knows all of this already. I am just here to nudge you again as you move on from classrooms to boardrooms.”

“When I look out, I see thinkers, innovators, rule breakers. I see ambition. I see energy. I see bold, audacious dreams that are bound to disrupt,” he added. “History has been anticipating you. Don’t keep it waiting any longer, 2019 — and definitely don’t fail to make your mark.”