Joe Biden, 46th President of the United States and former Vice President of the United States, gave the 2015 commencement speech. The year before that, John Kerry, then-Secretary of State spoke, at the 2014 commencement. In 2018, it was Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady.
There is one woman — a champion of women’s rights and an avid philanthropist — who encourages young people to be unapologetically themselves and stay in school. The Yale community would greatly benefit from her joining the company of Biden, Clinton, and Kerry as a commencement speaker. This woman is none other than Nicki Minaj.
Although she may seem like an unlikely choice, Minaj has a life story and words of wisdom that newly graduated Yale College students and their spectating families should hear. She said it herself: “Bad bi***es, like me, is hard to come by.”
The Trinidadian-born rapper, singer and songwriter was raised in her grandmother’s house in the Saint James district of Port Spain in Trinidad and Tobago. Her father was a financial executive and part-time gospel singer. Her mother, also a part-time gospel singer, worked in payroll and accounting.
Minaj and her older brother, Jelani, lived in a household with their 11 cousins for the first few years of Minaj’s life. Her mother received a Green Card and moved to the Bronx, buying her first house when Minaj was five. Her father, who had a violent temper and was addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine, burned down their house shortly after Minaj and her brother moved in.
After graduating from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Minaj aimed to become an actress. She struggled, however, working multiple jobs, from waitressing to customer service. She reports being fired from at least 15 jobs for being discourteous to patrons. Minaj has also shared that she had an abortion during this time.
Minaj released her first mixtape, Playtime is Over, on July 5, 2007. From there, she continued releasing mixtapes under the management of Debra Antney until she was discovered by Lil Wayne and signed a recording contract with Young Money Entertainment. On November 19, 2010, she released her first hit single, Pink Friday, which debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and soon rose to number one.
From then on, Minaj released hit after hit, including Super Bass and Anaconda. However, it is not her musical talent and continual record-breaking hits that make her a prime candidate for Yale commencement: Minaj’s philanthropy is admirable. Minaj announced that proceeds from her collaboration with 6ix9ine and profits from all merchandise would go towards the Bail Project following Black Lives Matter protests that were sparked by the murder of George Floyd. After the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, she donated $15,000 to the Food Bank of New York City and held a turkey drive at her alma mater. Similarly, after Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, she donated $25,000 to the Red Cross efforts in Texas.
Applicable to her stance on philanthropy, Minaj once exclaimed, “If I’m fake, I ain’t notice, cause my money ain’t.”
She later donated another $25,000 to St. Jude’s Home for Girls in Trinidad after a visit in 2020. In a speech Minaj gave following her donation to St. Jude’s, she encouraged young girls to push through the hardships that life throws at them, explaining her history with domestic violence and how she overcame it.
Minaj has been quoted multiple times encouraging young people, especially young women, to ignore anyone spewing hate in their direction and continue living their authentic lives. She once explained, “When you’re a girl, you have to be everything, You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice, and you have to — it’s like, I can’t be all of those things at once. I’m a human being.”
Words like this — statements that express that you do not need to be and do everything as, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings — are things that the Yale community needs to hear, especially from someone who has overcome so much. At an institution full of the most privileged individuals across the globe, it is important to see examples of people who came from little to nothing and yet became famous in their field.
Beyond that, it is important to hear those people advise students to calm down a bit; don’t try to be everything, because you can’t. Yale College has a toxic culture of expecting all students to push themselves to their limits at all times — be an athlete, get great grades, join clubs, be social, be happy, be personable. If you don’t do it all without breaking at Yale, you don’t deserve to be here. That is simply unattainable, and Minaj understands that. She expresses the need for hard work and how perseverance can lead to great success while also understanding that it cannot overcome the limits of humanity.
Nicki Minaj is just the person that Yale needs for commencement. As she famously said, “Cherish these nights, cherish these peoples / Life is a movie, but there’ll never be a sequel.”