“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 don’t know.”
Those were some of the powerful words shared by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, that the 2020 graduating class of Immaculate Heart High School heard during a virtual ceremony speech on Wednesday evening. It was a surprise appearance. The young women didn’t know it was coming until the video was played at the end of the two-hour ceremony.
Meghan had long been scheduled to share her heartfelt congratulations and some personal memories of her time with the all-girls school in Los Feliz, Los Angeles, but a spokesperson tells BAZAAR.com, “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.”
“For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been planning on saying a few words to you for your graduation, and as we all have seen over the past few weeks, what is happening in our country and in our state and in our hometown of L.A. has been absolutely devastating,” she told students. “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 don’t know. Stephon Clark. His life mattered,” she continued. “The first thing I want to say to you is that I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you have to grow up in a world where this is still present.”
Sharing her own memories of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which she said were also triggered by a “senseless act of racism,” when construction worker Rodney King was violently beaten by LAPD officers, she added, “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 … I remember seeing men in the back of a van just holding guns and rifles. 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.”
Meghan told the graduates that she knows they will use what they learned at the high school to be leaders in these difficult times. “You are going to lead with love, you are going to lead with compassion, you are going to use your voice,” she said. “You are going to use your voice in a stronger way than you have ever been able to, 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, vibrant, and open-minded as I know the teachings at Immaculate Heart are, I know you know that Black lives matter. You are equipped, you are ready, we need you, and you’re prepared.”
BAZAAR.com understands that the duchess was excited to be part of the IHHS graduation ceremony, but after recent events, knew there was no way she could speak to a group of compassionate, service-driven young women without addressing George Floyd and the racism that plagues the United States and the world. She hopes that her words provided a small bit of hope or comfort to the school community she cares about so deeply.
Her address will no doubt provide inspiration for the graduates at Immaculate, which fosters academic excellence and creativity in an environment that empowers students to become women of great heart and right conscience. She said, “One of my teachers, Ms. Pollia, said to me, ‘Always remember to put others’ 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.”
A source close to Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan tells BAZAAR, “This is something that is incredibly personal to Meghan, especially given everything she has experienced. And as a couple, it is, of course, very important. They are both feeling it, just like the rest of us.”
Both Meghan and Harry have been quietly having meetings behind the scenes with people on all levels to make sure that they are educated and connected to the issues of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Harry and Meghan have been having private conversations with community leaders and people at every level, as well as friends and family, about this issue since the start of recent events,” a source tells BAZAAR of the Sussexes’ recent efforts. “By speaking to as many people and organizations as possible, it has been a way for them to feel connected to everything that’s going on and learn more about the issues surrounding it.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.