Rihanna Gets Harvard University Humanitarian of the Year Award

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Pop musician Rihanna has been awarded Harvard University's 2017 Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award. The star behind hit songs like "Umbrella" and "Work" started her Believe Foundation in 2006 and the Clara Lionel Foundation, her most recent charitable initiative, in 2012.

"It starts with your neighbour, the person right next to you, the person sitting next to you in class, the kid down the block in your neighborhood," the Barbadian-born singer told attendees at the  Ivy League school in Cambridge, Massachussetts. "You just do whatever you can to help in any way that you can."

In her short speech, the 29-year-old also recalled how a child she had the philanthropy stream and wanted to save all the kids in Africa. In her teens, after launching her music career with 2005's chart-topping debut album, Music of the Sun,  she started her first charity.

"When I was five or six years old, I remember watching TV and I would see these commercials and I was watching other children suffer in other parts of the world and you know the commercials were [like], 'You can give 25 cents, save a child's life,' you know? And I would think to myself like, 'I wonder how many 25 cents I could save up to save all the kids in Africa?' And I would say to myself, 'When I grow up, when I can get rich, I'm going to save kids all over the world.' I just didn't know I would be in the position to do that by the time I was a teenager. [laughs]

"At 17, I started my career here in America, and by the age of 18, I started my first charity organization. I went on to team up with other organizations in the following years and met, helped, and even lost some of the most beautiful souls, from six-year-old Jasmina Anema who passed away in 2010 from leukemia; her story inspired thousands to volunteer as donors through DKMS. Fast forward to 2012 and then my grandmother, the late Clara Brathwaite, she lost her battle with cancer, which is the very reason and the driving force behind the Clara Lionel Foundation."

The annual humanitarian award is given to "an individual whose works and deeds have served to improve the quality of our lives and have inspired us to greater heights." Past winners have included former Myanmar political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon, musician Lionel Richie and writer and civil rights activist Ruby Dee.

The Clara Lionel Foundation, which is named after Rihanna's grandparents Clara and Lionel Braithwaite, has a stated goal to fight for young people's basic rights to education and health. The foundation, which teams up with the strategy group Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen to do its work, aims to support the estimated quarter of a billion children with inadequate education through things like scholarships and various other programs. Through the Clara Lionel Foundation, Rihanna also had a state-of-the-art center for oncology and nuclear medicine built at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados.

The Believe Foundation, Rihanna's first charity initiative, had a goal to raise awareness about the impact of blood cancers like leukemia, provide assistance for those in need of bone marrow transplants and to help recruit and register new bone marrow donors.

Read the entire transcript of Rihanna's Harvard Humanitarian Of The Year speech:

So I made it to Harvard. Never thought I'd be able to say that in my life, but it feels good. Thank you, Dr. Counter, thank you to the Harvard Foundation, and thank you, Harvard University for this great honor. Thank you. I'm incredibly humbled by this, to be acknowledged at this magnitude for something that in truth I've never wanted credit for.

When I was five or six years old, I remember watching TV and I would see these commercials and I was watching other children suffer in other parts of the world and you know the commercials were [like], 'you can give 25 cents, save a child's life,' you know? And I would think to myself like, I wonder how many 25 cents I could save up to save all the kids in Africa. And I would say to myself you know, 'when I grow up, when I can get rich, I'mma save kids all over the world.' I just didn't know I would be in the position to do that by the time I was a teenager. [Laughs]

At 17, I started my career here in America, and by the age of 18, I started my first charity organization. I went on to team up with other organizations in the following years and met, helped, and even lost some of the most beautiful souls, from six-year-old Jasmina Anema who passed away in 2010 from leukemia; her story inspired thousands to volunteer as donors through DKMS. Fast forward to 2012 and then my grandmother, the late Clara Brathwaite, she lost her battle with cancer, which is the very reason and the driving force behind the Clara Lionel Foundation. We're all human. And we all just want a chance: a chance at life, a chance in education, a chance at a future, really. And at CLF, our mission is to impact as many lives as possible, but it starts with just one. Just one.

As I stare out into this beautiful room, I see optimism, I see hope, I see the future. I know that each and every one of you has the opportunity to help someone else. All you need to do is help one person, expecting nothing in return. To me, that is a humanitarian.

People make it seem way too hard, man. The truth is, and what I want the little girl watching those commercials to know, is you don't have to be rich to be a humanitarian. You don't have to be rich to help somebody. You don't gotta be famous. You don't even have to be college-educated. I mean, I wish I was, I'm not saying you know… [Crowd laughs] Especially today. [laughs] It's true, I might come back but all right. [Crowd cheers]

But it starts with your neighbor, the person right next to you, the person sitting next to you in class, the kid down the block in your neighborhood, you just do whatever you can to help in any way that you can. And today I want to challenge each of you to make a commitment to help one person: one organization, one situation that touches your heart. My grandmother always used to say if you've got a dollar, there's plenty to share. Thank you ladies and gentlemen. It was my honor.

Watch Rihanna's Harvard Humanitarian Of The Year speech:

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.