Black-ish, Grown-ish Actress and Activist Yara Shahidi Delivers Commencement Speech at Westridge School

Published : Monday, June 10, 2019 | 4:58 AM

Yara Shahidi delivers her commencement speech before 2019 Westridge School graduating class on Friday, June 7, 2019. Image courtesy Westridge via Instagram

Nineteen-year-old actress, model and activist Yara Shahidi was the commencement speaker at the Westridge School, a Pasadena all-girls school, last Friday, June 7.

Before the 75 members of the graduating class, parents, advisers and teaching staff, Shahidi stressed the importance of building a more inclusive global community, and congratulated the Westridge School community for lending support to the graduating seniors throughout their high school education.

“There’s a dangerous narrative that we must unite in spite of our differences, and I urge you to not be fooled that this is a message of unity or togetherness, because those three words, ‘in spite of,’ subtly reaffirms that it is our different identities which keeps up apart, that we must erase nuances and complexities to honestly and truly be in community with one another,” Shahidi said. “We must replace ‘in spite of’ with the phrase ‘because of.’ We unite because of our differences, because our future should be one that is identity celebratory, because our community will become more inclusive, more beautiful, and more expansive when we rid ourselves of many fractured borders.”

Later, Shahidi posted on Instagram, “So beyond grateful to have been chosen to deliver the commencement speech to the brilliant Westridge Class of 2019. This compassionate and driven class of inspiring humans has made it their mission to move forward as contributors to our community at large, even raising money throughout their senior year to provide more educational scholarship opportunities for classes to come.”

Westridge School on Instagram said, “We want to extend a special thank you to ‘black-ish’ and ‘grown-ish’ actress and activist Yara Shahidi (@yarashahidi), who was our commencement speaker this year!”

The school added, “Yara, we know your powerful words on the importance of coming together ‘not in spite of, but because of our differences’ will stay with our community and the Class of 2019 for a long time. Thank you for joining us in sending these bright young people into the world!”

Shahidi gained recognition for her starring role as the oldest daughter Zoey Johnson on the sitcom “Black-ish” and its spin-off series “Grown-ish. Her film credits include “Imagine That” (2009), “Smallfoot” (2018), and the lead role in “The Sun is also a Star” (2019).

As an activist, Shahidi founded Eighteen x 18 with social news publisher Now This, which she said “will be a platform to encourage [her] peers to vote for the very first time” in the midterm elections. Her other organizations include Yara’s Club, a partnership with Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN) of New York, which provides online mentorship in hopes to end poverty through education.

Shahidi’s activism was noticed by former first lady Michelle Obama, who wrote her a letter of recommendation to Harvard University She was also given the opportunity by Teen Vogue to interview Hillary Clinton in 2017.

Westridge School is located at 324 Madeline Drive in West Pasadena. It was founded in 1913.

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