Meghan "felt compelled to directly address and speak to these young women about what's happening in this country right now around the killing of George Floyd"

By Steph Petit
June 04, 2020 12:28 PM
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Meghan Markle has added her voice to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Duchess of Sussex made a surprise commencement speech to the graduating class of her alma mater Immaculate Heart High School at their virtual ceremony Wednesday evening, addressing the "absolutely devastating" killing of George Floyd and the social unrest in the wake of his death.

"She had planned to share a heartfelt congratulations to the class of 2020, who have worked so hard over the past four years, by sharing some words of support, encouragement, and offering some memories of her own time at the school," a spokesperson for Meghan, 38, said. "However, in the video message she shared, she felt compelled to directly address and speak to these young women about what’s happening in this country right now around the killing of George Floyd — as well as what’s been happening over many, many years and many, many generations to countless other black Americans."

Read Meghan's full six-minute address below:

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle
| Credit: Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex

"Immaculate Heart High School, graduating class of 2020. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been planning on saying a few words to you for your graduation. And as we've all seen over the last week, what is happening in our country and in our state and in our hometown of L.A. has been absolutely devastating. And I wasn't sure what I could say to you.

"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. Stephon Clark, his life mattered.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
Meghan Markle
| Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage

"And I was thinking about this moment when I was a sophomore in high school. I was 15. And as you know, sophomore year is the year that we do volunteer work, which is a prerequisite for graduating. And I remember my teacher at the time, one of my teachers, Miss Pollia, said to me before I was leaving for day volunteering, 'Always remember to put others' needs above your own fears.' And that has stuck with me through my entire life, and I've thought about it more in the last week than ever before.

"So the first thing I want to say to you is that I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that you have to grow up in a world where this is still present. I was 11 or 12 years old when I was just about to start Immaculate Heart middle school in the fall, and it was the L.A. riots, which was also triggered by a senseless act of racism.

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"And 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, and I remember seeing men in the back of a van holding guns and rifles.

"And I remember pulling up to the house and seeing the tree that had always been there, completely charred. And those memories don't go away.

"And I can't imagine that at 17 or 18 years old, which is how old you are now, that you would have to have a different version of that same type of experience. That's something that you should have an understanding of, but an understanding of as a history lesson, not as your reality. So I am sorry that in a way we have not gotten the world to the place that you deserve it to be.

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle
| Credit: Duke and Duchess of Sussex

"The other thing though that I do remember about that time was how people came together. And we are seeing that right now. We are seeing that from the sheriff in Michigan or the police chief in Virginia. 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.

"I know that this is not the graduation that you envisioned, and this is not the celebration that you imagined. But I also know that there's a way for us to reframe this for you, and to not see this as the end of something, but instead to see this as the beginning of you harnessing all of the work, all the values, all the skills that you have, that you have embodied over the last four years, and now you channel that.

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"Now all of that work gets activated. Now you get to be part of rebuilding, and I know sometimes people say 'How many times do we need to rebuild?' Well you know, we're going to rebuild and rebuild and rebuild until it is rebuilt. Because when the foundation is broken, so are we.

Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor
Prince Philip, Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth, Doria Ragland, Archie and Meghan Markle
| Credit: Chris Allerton/ ©️SussexRoyal

"You are going to lead with love, you are going to lead with compassion, you are going to use your voice. You are going to use your voice in a stronger way than you've ever been able to do, because most of you are 18, or you're going to turn 18, so you're going to vote.

"You are going to have empathy for those who don't see the world through the same lens that you do, because with as diverse and vibrant and open minded as I know the teachings at Immaculate Heart are, I know you know that Black lives matter.

"So I'm already excited for what you are going to do in the world. You are equipped, you are ready, we need you and you are prepared. I am so proud to call each of you a fellow alumni. And I'm so eager to see what you're going to do. Please know that I am cheering you on all along the way. I am exceptionally proud of you and I'm wishing you a huge congratulations on today, the start of all the impact you're going to make in the world as the leaders that we all so deeply crave.

"Congratulations ladies, and thank you in advance."

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.