“I know you know that Black Lives Matter. I am already excited for what you are going to do in the world," the Duchess of Sussex told the high school students during her speech

By Simon Perry
June 04, 2020 04:13 AM
Advertisement

Meghan Markle has spoken out about the “absolutely devastating” killing of George Floyd, telling students at her former high school in Los Angeles that she is "so sorry that you have to grow up in a world where this is still present.”

The Duchess of Sussex made a surprise commencement speech to the graduating class of Immaculate Heart High School at their virtual ceremony late Wednesday evening, where she appeared via phone. Talking to the students, Meghan revealed that it was difficult for her to find the words to sum up her feelings regarding the death of Floyd and the social unrest in the country.

“What is happening in our country and in our state and in our hometown of L.A. has been absolutely devastating. I wasn’t sure what I could say to you," Meghan, 38, said. "I wanted to say the right thing and I was really nervous that I wouldn’t, or that it would get picked apart. And I realized the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing because George Floyd’s life mattered and Breonna Taylor’s life mattered and Philando Castile’s life mattered and Tamir Rice’s life mattered, and so did so many other people whose names we know and whose names we do not know."

Meghan has spoken in the past about how the private Catholic school was where she found her confidence and learned how to become a leader.

Those close to her tell PEOPLE that her "heart hurts" for the young people who are graduating into a world of "injustice," and that she hopes that her words provided a "small bit of hope, comfort, or inspiration" to the school community as they head out into the world.

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex

“You’re going to use your voice in a stronger way than you’ve ever been able to, because most of you are 18 – or you’re going to turn 18 soon — so you’re going to vote," she continued to tell the students on Wednesday evening. "You’re going to have empathy for those who don’t see the world through the same lens that you do.”

In the 6-minute address, Meghan recalled a time when she was volunteering during her sophomore year at the all-female school, and one of her former teachers, Ms. Pollia, said to her, "always remember to put other’s needs above your own fears."

“That has stuck with me throughout my entire life and I have thought about it more in the last week than ever before,” she explained. “I am so sorry that you have to grow up in a world where this is still present."

Meghan – who moved back to Los Angeles with husband Prince Harry, 35, and son Archie, 1, in March – went on to describe how her hometown was hit by riots when she was 11 or 12 years old, following the violent beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991.

Saying that the historic event was “also triggered by senseless acts of racism," the duchess reflected on the tragic time.

“I remember the curfew and I remember rushing back home and on that drive home, seeing ash fall from the sky and smelling the smoke and seeing the smoke billow out of buildings, and seeing people run out of buildings carrying bags and looting," she recalled.

“I remember seeing men in the back of a van just holding guns and rifles. I remember pulling up the house and seeing the tree, that had always been there, completely charred. And those memories don’t go away," Meghan continued. “I am sorry that in a way we have not gotten to the place where you deserve it to be.”

Can't get enough of PEOPLE's Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and Archie
Samir Hussein/WireImage

But there is hope. Meghan went on to say that today's youth and other acts of heroism around the country are the inspiration America needs. Referring to the sheriff in Michigan, Christopher R. Swanson, who joined marchers during a protest, she said, “We are seeing people stand in solidarity . . . we are seeing communities come together and to uplift. And you are going to be part of this movement.”

Concluding her speech, Meghan told the students that all the skills and values “you have embodied over the last four years” puts them in a strong position to “to be part of" the "rebuilding.”

“I know you know that Black Lives Matter. I am already excited for what you are going to do in the world. You are ready, we need you and you are prepared," Meghan said. "I’m so proud to call each of you a fellow alumni. I am cheering you on, all along the way. I am exceptionally proud of you.”

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.