Having the prolific hit-maker Pharrell Williams as their commencement speaker probably seemed like a big enough “get” for the graduating class of Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy. But the ridiculously ageless producer and singer had one welcome surprise for the young graduates: guaranteed internships.
“Let me be clear...every member of the 2019 graduating class is guaranteed an internship waiting for them—you—next summer,” Williams told the grads, who leaped to their feet and cheered in response. (Listen, they don’t have massive student loans a billionaire can offer to pay off yet.)
“It’s one thing to be ‘woke,’ another to be awake, leaned in and engaged,” Williams added, sounding like a well-intentioned and earnest, if slightly annoying, uncle.
The entire graduating class of the Promise Academy, a K-12 charter school, was offered acceptance letters to college, meaning those 114 students will likely be very booked and very busy well into 2020.
“The world is watching Harlem, but this renaissance will be different,” said Williams during the speech. “Believe it or not, with respect, it’s going to actually be better. And the reason why is because the new Harlem Renaissance has education at its core.”
The “new Harlem Renaissance” or “second Harlem Renaissance” is a loaded phrase for longtime residents, who may equate the term with all the changes gentrification has brought to the historically black neighborhood. But to be fair, while the phrasing may be clunky, the heart of Williams’ message—a commitment to education—is one he’s been true to. Earlier this year, he launched a tech-focused music education program with Verizon that brought free technology and internet access to under-resourced middle schools around the country.
So congrats kids! And uhmm, don’t mess up Pharrell’s kombucha order.