Williams, who may be best known for his 2013 hit “Happy,” has a long list of talents.
He is a visionary recording artist, a producer, songwriter, philanthropist, fashion designer, author and entrepreneur. He was last at UVA in September 2017, performing at “A Concert for Charlottesville: An Evening of Music and Unity,” which was organized to unify the community following that summer’s white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville.
Williams urged the Class of 2019 not to tune out to the challenges facing the country; the challenges of immigration, the reality of racism (“Those tiki torches are real people,” he said, referencing the Unite the Right rally), the struggle for women’s rights, the rights of the LGBTQ community, the rights of people with disabilities, Native Americans and the rights of low-income people.
“Women, LGBTQIA, teachers and the poor are fair game for the oppressors,” he said. “Even our own high school students are falling prey. You know the oppressors are entrenched when anxiety-inducing active shooter drills at public schools seem like the most viable solution to protect our children from gun violence.”
This Williams remark inspired a particularly strong reaction from the audience: “In 2019, what’s the real role of the Electoral College if not a tool of oppression?” he asked.
Williams also touched on women’s reproductive rights. “We ended slavery – you would think we’d be tired of telling other humans what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Haven’t we learned our lessons about trying to govern human bodies?”
Some in the audience, Williams said, will say, “That’s not on me, it’s not what I believe or what I want to see … But we are all connected, remember? And this, Virginia, this is our chance and your chance to lead.”