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Pharrell Williams to Deliver Commencement Address

Norfolk State University is pleased to announce that Virginia native Pharrell Williams will deliver the keynote address at NSU’s 107th Commencement Exercise, which will honor the December graduates in the Class of 2021. The in-person commencement ceremony will be held on campus at 9 a.m., on Saturday, December 11, at Joseph G. Echols Memorial Hall. It will also be live streamed on the University’s website at

Pharrell WilliamsA visionary recording artist, producer, songwriter, philanthropist, fashion designer, and entrepreneur, Pharrell Williams has been a creative force in the music industry and beyond for more than two decades.

Over the years, Williams has been honored with 13 Grammy Awards, including Producer of the Year in the 2004, 2014 and 2019; and ASCAP’s prestigious Golden Note Award in 2012. In 2014, his original song “Happy,” featured in Despicable Me 2, also received an Academy Award nomination. In 2017, he received an Academy Award nomination for co-producing Best Picture-nominated Hidden Figures (2016), as well as a Golden Globe nomination for co-scoring the film. In the summer of 2020, Williams was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame along with Chad Hugo for their work as The Neptunes.

In April 2019, Williams launched Something in the Water, the first-ever multi-day music festival and cultural experience on the beach in his hometown of Virginia Beach. The festival’s mission was to unite the community and celebrate the diversity and magic of Virginia Beach.  It also was an opportunity to bring the best of what Williams has encountered around the world back to his hometown.

A longtime advocate against racial injustice, Williams was an integral part in the talks with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam about Juneteenth being a permanent paid state holiday. Virginia has long marked Juneteenth by issuing a proclamation, but the date has not previously been considered a state holiday. In June 2021, Williams joined Governor Northam at a press conference at which he announced his plans to do just that. Since the press conference, he continues to push other states and companies to do the same and remains at the forefront of the fight for racial equality across the country.

At the ceremony, Norfolk State will award Williams a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. Additionally, NSU will confer degrees for nearly 400 candidates, who have completed the requirements for associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees.

To attend the ceremony, all invited guests must have a ticket, which is provided by their prospective graduate. Norfolk State University also requires proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of the commencement ceremony. Attendees should plan to bring their government ID, vaccination card, proof or COVID-19 test result.

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