"Always remember to put others' needs above your own fears."
Meghan Markle recalled the advice that she got from one of her teachers at Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School in Los Angeles during a virtual commencement address to her alma mater on Wednesday evening.
"That has stuck with me through my entire life," Markle said, "and I've thought about it more in the last week than ever."
Amid the nationwide protests against the treatment of black Americans and police brutality, Markle recalled being a child experiencing the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which were "also triggered by a senseless act of racism," she said.
In 1991, a black man named Rodney King was violently beaten by members of the LAPD, and the incident was videotaped. Though four policemen were charged with excessive use of force in the case, they were later found not guilty, which ignited the riots.
Markle was around 11 or 12 and about to begin middle school when she witnessed the riots in her neighborhood.
"I remember the curfew and I remember rushing back home, and on that drive home seeing ash fall from the sky and smelling the smoke," Markle said. "And seeing the smoke billow out of buildings and seeing people run out buildings and looting and seeing men in the back of the van just holding guns and rifles." A tree in her yard, "was completely charred," she said.
The memories "don't go away," she said.
Markle, now 38, drew parallels to the current protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
"The first thing I want to say to you is that I'm sorry," Markle told the graduating students. "I am so sorry that you have to grow up in a world where this is still present."
However, "the other thing though that I do remember about [the '92 riots] was how people came together," Markle said.
And today "we are seeing people stand in solidarity, we're seeing communities come together and uplift," she said. "And you are going to be part of this movement."
Markle encouraged the graduates to channel what they've learned into the current political climate. "Now all of that work gets activated; now you get to be part of rebuilding," she said.
"You are going to lead with love, you are going to lead with compassion, you are going to use your voice," she said.
"I know you know that black lives matter," she said. "So I am already excited for what you are going to do in the world."