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Commencement Speaker

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

Over the years, Pharrell has been honored with 13 Grammy Awards, including 2004’s, 2014’s and 2019’s Producer of the Year, 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 2019, Pharrell founded YELLOW, a non-profit working to even the odds for all youth through education. YELLOW’s ecosystem approach puts youth at the center and surrounds them with the supports they need to realize their potential. In 2021, YELLOW launched YELLOWHAB — an immersive educational environment that sparks imagination in a story-filled space where children transcend the everyday on a journey for deeper learning. In 2020, Williams launched Black Ambition, a non-profit initiative that will provide a bridge to success for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs who are launching tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products/services start-ups. Black Ambition is committed to leveling the playing field and fostering the ingenuity, determination, and resilience of underrepresented entrepreneurs.  

In addition to his musical and philanthropic endeavors, Pharrell narrated Universal’s 2018 remake of the classic film THE GRINCH, authored the book A Fish Doesn’t Know It’s Wet, and released a new Netflix Original series with his producing partner, Mimi Valdés, titled Brainchild (2018). Past projects include Dope (2015) and Roxanne Roxanne (2017). Next up, Williams and Valdés will team up with Kenya Barris for a stage musical inspired by the Juneteenth African American holiday tradition celebrating the final day of United States slavery. 

Not stopping there, Pharrell has excelled as a fashion designer with his Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream apparel brands, the textile company Bionic Yarn, Adidas and Chanel. In the fall of 2019, he opened a restaurant and cocktail lounge called Swan and Bar Bevy in Miami’s Design District along with David Grutman. Williams and Grutman have teamed up once again to open The Goodtime Hotel in Miami in April 2021. Most recently, Williams announced his newest venture, Humanrace, his luxury product company with a mission to empower all people in their pursuit of wellbeing.  

In April 2019, Pharrell launched the first ever SOMETHING IN THE WATER, a 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 was an opportunity to bring the best of what Pharrell has encountered around the world back to his hometown.  

In June 2019, Williams released "Letter to My Godfather," an Emmy-nominated original song for Netflix’s Black Godfather about the legendary music executive, Clarence Avant. Williams also produced five songs on the soundtrack for Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King including, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” “Hakuna Matata,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” and “Mbube.” Most recently, Williams teamed up with Jay-Z on their single “Entrepreneur,” a song celebrating and empowering Black entrepreneurs. 

A longtime advocate against racial injustice, Pharrell 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. This June, Pharrell joined Governor Northam at a press conference at which he announced his plans to do just that. Since the press conference in Virginia, Pharrell 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.