Meghan Markle gave a commencement address on Wednesday as part of Immaculate Heart High School's virtual graduation ceremony for the class of 2020.
In a video message recorded on her phone, the Duchess of Sussex, who is an alumna of the all-girls school, said she'd been planning on making a graduation speech for weeks. But after this past week, she knew she couldn't speak to the young women without talking about George Floyd and social injustice. "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," she said.
She then admitted she "wasn't sure" what she could say to the class.
"I wanted to say the right thing," she continued. "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 also looked back at her sophomore year at Immaculate Heart High School and recalled the impactful words her teacher, Ms. Pollia, told her while she was on her way to volunteer.
"'Always remember to put others' needs above your own fears,'" she recounted. "And that has stuck with me through my entire life, and I have thought about it more in the last week than ever before."
In addition, she remembered the 1992 Los Angeles riots, "which was also triggered by a senseless act of racism."
"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," Meghan recalled. "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."
She then told the students she can't imagine how, at 17 or 18 years old, they "would have to have a different version of that same type of experience."
"That's something you should have an understanding of but an understanding of as a history lesson, not as your reality," Meghan added. "So, I am sorry that, in a way, we have not gotten the world to the place that you deserve it to be."
The duchess also recalled "how people came together" and said "we are seeing that right now."
"We are seeing that from the sheriff in Michigan or the police chief in Virginia," 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."
While Meghan acknowledged this wasn't the graduation or the celebration the students envisioned, she also said "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," she said. "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 what? We are going to rebuild and rebuild and rebuild until it is rebuilt. Because when the foundation is broken, so are we."
She then told the graduates they are going to lead with love, compassion and their voices.
"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," she continued. "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 opened-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're going to do in the world. You are equipped; you are ready; we need you and you are prepared."
Near the end of her speech, Meghan said she's "so proud to call each of you a fellow alumni" and that she's "so eager" to see what they're going to do.
"Please know that I am cheering you on all along the way," she concluded. "I'm 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."