Queen Latifah (Dana Elaine Owens) is no stranger to people listening to what comes out of her mouth. The talented actress, hip-hop legend and producer has been at home on the stage for decades. But on Monday, she took to the mic at Rutgers-Newark 2018 commencement not for more accolades, but to inspire graduates.
Queen Latifah focused the beginning of her speech on reminding each of the graduates that their home indisputably matters, shaping who they are. To get her point across, she told a story of a time in her life long before she was famous and dropped an incredible gem of advice:
"I was taller than the other girls, bigger than the other girls, different than the other girls. By the time I was 13, I had body. All of it. It was all there. (Still is. I'm da*n proud of it. Look at it.)
"Anyway, I was looking for a role model to emulate, but nobody looked quite like me. And then I found myself standing on a lonely stage in our school production of The Wiz...[...] I was [the big], tall Dorothy. But someone must've thought I had an OK voice, because I got to sing the finale, 'Home'. I was petrified.
"I looked out into the audience and just tried to focus on my mother's smiling face in that crowd. And I sang, 'When I think of home, I think of a place where there's love overflowing'. And suddenly, I wasn't Dana. I wasn't Dorothy. I wasn't big Dorothy. And for the very first time I can remember, I was more than comfortable in my own skin. I was confident. I knew I had found myself. Bringing someone else to life on the stage in a way that came from deep inside, home wasn't just a song. It was a foundation that taught me I didn't need a role model. I didn't need to try to be like someone else. I just needed to be me."
Queen Latifah acknowledged that it can be scary to go off on your own. But she insisted it is necessary and pointed out that we all have a responsibility to our home to give back and be good citizens, whether that's mentoring, voting or anything in between.
"Class of 2018, you need to keep searching for a role model? No. You are the role model. Now go out there and make a difference. Be that difference."
Remind you of that famous "be the change" quote from Ghandi yet?
And that's the key. Learning is lifelong, and you'll make mistakes. But you have something to offer right now. Everything you've gained, everything you are, other people need to see it, to take direction from your authenticity, expertise and uniqueness. There's no magic moment where you are qualified enough. You don't need permissions. You're already obligated and entitled to be disruptive in fantastic ways. All you have to do is be you. To work for the world you want with the integrity, authenticity and compassion that makes life so beautifully worth it. Do that, and others will follow you, no manipulative marketing or scary drill sergeant tactics required.