Meghan Markle honors George Floyd in powerful speech: 'The only wrong thing to say is to say nothing'

Taryn Ryder
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Meghan Markle emotionally paid tribute to George Floyd and other black victims of police officer shootings in a powerful 5-minute commencement speech to her former high school.

The Duchess of Sussex took part in Immaculate Heart High School’s virtual ceremony on Wednesday night and called what has been happening across the U.S. “absolutely devastating.” Markle, 38, admitted she worried about finding the right thing to say knowing it would be “picked apart,” but that the only “wrong thing to say is nothing.”

“For the past couple of weeks, I've been planning on saying a few words to you for your graduation and as we’ve all seen over the past few weeks, what is happening in our country and in our state and in our hometown of L.A. has been absolutely devastating,” Markle began. She and Prince Harry recently relocated to Los Angeles after stepping down from royal duties.

“I wasn't sure what I could say to you,” Markle told the all-girls school. “I wanted to say the right thing 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 don't know. Stephon Clark. His life mattered.”

The 33-year-old actress recalled a life-changing moment when she was 15 and a sophomore at Immaculate Heart. While doing school required volunteer work, Markle’s teacher, Ms. Pollia, told her, “Always remember to put other’s needs above your own fears.”

“That has stuck with me throughout my entire life, and I have thought about it more in the last week than ever before,” Markle declared, before apologizing to the students. “I am so sorry that you have to grow up in a world where this is still present.”

Markle recounted witnessing the L.A. Riots in 1992, “which was also triggered by a senseless act of racism.” In April 1992, a jury acquitted officers of the Los Angeles Police Department in the beating of Rodney King.

“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, and I remember seeing men in the back of a van just holding guns and rifles,” Markle shared. “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. I can’t imagine that at 17 or 18 years old, which is how old you are now, that you 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.

Markle has spoken out about her experiences as a biracial woman before. She told students she is sorry “that we have not gotten the world to the place that you deserve it to be,” before offering a message of hope.

“The other thing though that I do remember about that time was how people came together. And we are seeing that right now,” 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.”

Markle said she hopes the women will “see this as the beginning of you harnessing all of the work, all of the values, all of the skills you have embodied over the last four years and now you channel that.”

“Now, all of that work gets activated. Now you get to be part of rebuilding,” she added. “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.”

The Suits star urged everyone to lead with “love” and “compassion” and to use their “voice.”

“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 are 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, and we need you, and you are prepared.”

Markle congratulated the seniors and said she’s eager to see “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,” she concluded.

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