Like pretty much all universities at the moment, Virginia’s Norfolk State University was forced to hold its annual commencement ceremony virtually.

While the graduates weren’t able to accept their diplomas in person, they did receive a virtual visit from a surprise guest: Pharrell Williams, who Zoomed in to offer some words of encouragement and inspiration to graduates during this very uncertain time.

“Even if this is not the norm, you guys and girls still deserve all the praise,” Williams, a Virginia native, told the grads at the historically African-American university. “You stuck it through, you made it and today’s your day.”

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In a wide-ranging speech lasting more than 20 minutes, Williams touched on a wide range of topics, stressing the power of believing in oneself, especially for African-Americans.

“What I’m trying to explain is that a belief in yourself is actually a belief in us. Think about all the storywriters who came before you. Think of those yet to hold a pen in their hands yet. Now think of all those people who have tried to take our story away from us,” he said.

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“Imagine the uncountable number of persecutors and oppressors and powers-that-be that tried to silence our songs, steal our story, rip the pages out of our books,” he added. “But think about this: every single one of them failed.”

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