WOOSTER, Ohio – The student body at The College of Wooster received a special visit recently from a superstar entertainer, fashion designer, and philanthropist, as “A Conversation with Pharrell Williams” proved to be a big hit on Aug. 28 at a private event, held inside McGaw Chapel.
Williams offered several of his life philosophies during a question-and-answer session with Wooster president Sarah Bolton, which was followed by a dozen engaging questions from adoring students who were hanging on his every word. The conversation hit on a variety of subjects, from business interests to creative process to culture issues, and yes, even advice on selfies and Williams’s skincare routine.
While acknowledging “music and skateboarding are the lenses that (he’s) grown to see life through,” Williams emphasized the importance of education for young people to change not only their personal circumstances but society as a whole. “Teaching should be regarded as one of the most prestigious things you can do to honor your species … so no child’s education slips through the cracks,” he said.
Williams saved some of his strongest commentary for women’s empowerment issues. Discussing the upcoming “Now is Her Time” campaign, a partnership with adidas, he discussed the importance of collaborating with like-minded corporations that cater to women, and in closing advice to the students he implored, “take everything you learned from this incredible (college), take that, put it into action, stand next to women, and protect them at all costs.”
In another highlight, Williams compared Wooster’s “Independent Minds, Working Together” message to his work as a hip-hop producer. The 13-time Grammy Award winner believes “individuality is everything,” but by nudging artists to “go deeper,” similar to how Wooster faculty members mentor students, will encourage them “to reveal this other side of (their) personality” and “they end up shining brighter than they have in years,” possibly with the bonus of a new hit record.
The most entertaining part of the program came when Wooster students took to the microphone. Williams, sometimes taking dramatic and humorous pauses before responding, was asked about his philanthropy, thoughts on musical trends and the record industry, influences, and why his songs start with a four-count beat.
The question that brought the best reaction came from A’Janay Nicholson, a sophomore from Baltimore, who after complimenting Williams’s inspiring work quickly pivoted to inquiring about his all-important skincare routine. The baby-faced 46-year old joked that it’s “coming to a market soon,” and after offering a few details, including “washing your face at least twice a day,” he motioned her to the stage for a handshake that she’ll cherish forever.
Williams’s impactful visit was courtesy of a friendship that he formed with Mark Dowley ’86, a member of the College’s board of trustees.