'Build your own stage and make them see you': Beyoncé's commencement speech to Class of 2020

‘Build your own stage and make them see you’: Beyoncé’s commencement speech to Class of 2020


Each year around this time, hundreds of thousands of high school and college graduates in the northern hemisphere sit among crowds of fellow students, teachers and parents as they listen to a prominent figure disperse words of wisdom in their commencement speech.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, graduation ceremonies were cancelled, and commencement speeches were transferred onto the virtual sphere. Over the weekend, YouTube live-streamed a host of prominent leaders and musical artists for a “Dear Class of 2020”, included appearances by Alicia Keys, Lizzo, Taylor Swift, Michelle and Barak Obama and Beyoncé.

After thanking the Obamas for her inclusion in the online video, Beyoncé thanked those who have been highlighting the case for Black Lives Matter across the country.

“We’ve seen that our collective hearts when put to positive action could start,” she said. “The wills of change real change has started with you this new generation of high school and college graduates who we celebrate today.”

In her 10 minute speech, she emphasised the importance of education, investing in oneself, and finding the courage to back yourself regardless of external forces.

“Stepping out is the best thing you can do for self-discovery. I know how hard it is to step out and bet on yourself.”

She described the barriers she faced when she was starting out as a performing artist, and the ways she had overcome them.

“There was a pivotal turning point in my life when I chose to build my own company many years ago I had to trust that I was ready and that my parents and mentors provided me with the tools I needed to be successful but that was terrifying.” 

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“The entertainment business is still very sexist it’s still very male-dominated and as a woman I did not see enough female role models given the opportunity to do what I knew I had to do to run my label and management company to direct my films and produce my tours that meant ownership owning my masters owning my art owning my future and writing my own story.”

“Not enough black women had a seat at the table so I had to go and chop down that wood and build my own table, then I had to invite the best there was to have a seat. That meant hiring women, men, outsiders, underdogs and people that were overlooked and waiting to be seen.”

She spoke about the importance of respect, of failing, of redefining what is valuable and important and of living an authentic life.

“I’m often asked what’s your secret to success. The shorter answer is, put in the work. There may be more failures than victories. Losing can be the best motivator to get you even bigger wins.”

“Many of the best creatives and business people whom although supremely qualified and talented, were turned down over and over as executives of major corporations because they were female, or because of racial disparity. I’ve been very proud to provide them with a place at my table.”

“Don’t make the world make you feel that you have to look a certain way to be brilliant. You don’t have to speak a certain way to be brilliant, but you do have to spread your gift around the planet in a way that is authentically you.

“Build your own stage and make them see you. Your queerness is beautiful. Your blackness is beautiful. Your compassion, your understanding, your fight for people who may be different from you, is beautiful.”

Beyoncé, a 24 time Grammys award artist, was among a large cohort of prominent figures who have taken to social media to call out systemic racism and police brutality since the death of George Floyd under police custody on May 25. Last week, her husband Jay-Z took full-page ads in newspapers including The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer to honour George Floyd.

Michelle Obama also participated in the video, making an impassioned speech about the importance of resilience and courage during these difficult times.

“What we finally do have, is focus. We see how these inequalities are playing out on our streets. We all have no choice but to see what has been staring us in the face for years, for centuries.”

“Life will always be uncertain. I hope that what you are going through right now can be your wakeup call. That it pushes you to think what kind of person you want to be.”

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