Meghan Markle wants to make it clear: “George Floyd’s life mattered.” The Duchess of Sussex had been conspicuously silent this past week as protests and uprisings around the country escalated in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, only issuing an online statement of solidarity urging followers to “speak up and speak up” in tandem with her husband Prince Harry and Queen Elizabeth on behalf of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, of which Markle is Vice President.
However, on Wednesday, Markle broke her silence when she addressed the 2020 class of her alma mater, Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, Calif., in a self-taped commencement. She began by admitting: “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.”
Obviously, the widespread scrutiny that has accompanied Markle since she became affiliated with the British royal family somewhat justifies her hesitation. But as she now concedes, “I realized the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing.”
Markle’s earlier reflections of being personally affected by and privy to racism as an ethnically ambiguous “fly on the wall” were recirculating earlier this week, via a 2012 video in which she stated: “Certain people don’t look at me and see me as a black woman or a biracial woman,” she noted. “They treat me differently, I think, than they would if they knew what I was mixed with, and I think that that is—I don’t know, it can be a struggle as much as it can be a good thing, depending on the people that you’re dealing with.”
Now, a much more declarative and passionate Markle urges young people to become actively involved in the fight against racism. “I know you know that black lives matter,” she says. Recalling her own experiences growing up in Los Angeles following the police beating of Rodney King, she speaks of the 1992 uprisings that mirror the ones we’re currently witnessing as “also triggered by a senseless act of racism.” Nearly 30 years later, Markle apologizes to her fellow alums for our world reflecting less progress than it should upon their graduation, but tasks them with being part of the change, saying: “you are going to be part of this movement.”
You can read and view Markle’s speech in its entirety below.
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 LA 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’s life mattered.
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 Polia [sic] said to me before I was leaving for a day of volunteering: “Always remember to put others’ needs above your own fears.” And that has stuck with me through my entire life, and I have 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 am 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. And I member 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 billowing 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 just 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’m sorry that in a way, we have not gotten the world to the place that you deserve it to be.
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 of the values, all of the skills that you have embodied over the last four years, and now you channel that. Now, all of that work gets activated. Now you get to be part of rebuilding. And I know sometimes people say, “How many times we need to rebuild?” Well, you know what? We are going to rebuild, and rebuild, and rebuild until it is rebuilt. Because when the foundation is broken so are we.
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 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 am 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’m 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’m exceptionally proud of you, and I’m wishing you a huge congratulations on today, the start of all the impact you are going to make in the world as the leaders that we all so deeply crave. Congratulations, Ladies—and thank you in advance.