When I think Harvard I think of two things: education and Legally Blonde. I definitely do not think of Lady Gaga. So, when I was asked to attend her "Born This Way Foundation" launch last Wednesday at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was immediately curious. As any teenager would, I consulted Google to learn more about it.
The first thing that struck me is that "Born This Way" seems like such a unique kind of foundation -- something I'd never really heard of anyone else doing before, for reasons I'll explain below. What made Lady Gaga want to launch a foundation? was probably the biggest question I had. I kept hoping this idea was as amazing as it seemed in writing: "to build a braver, kinder world that celebrates individuality and empowers young people."
I should have known it would be. I mean, when does Lady Gaga do anything that isn't over the top spectacular? Fan or not, she does a lot of good for a lot of teens. Even personally, I have found her message resonates a lot with what I believe in. Something about her had always caught my attention -- especially how bold and honest she is. I was so intimidated to think she would be sitting not five feet from me. What do you do? What do you say? WHAT DO YOU WEAR?
There I was, sitting on the rickety subway hurdling towards the Sanders Theater on Harvard campus. It was snowing outside, freezing cold, and my friend had decided to wear the wrong shoes for such an adventure. After getting wrong directions from not-so-helpful Cambridge natives we finally made it and took our seats. We were front row, and the whole room was buzzing with energy and inspiration.
I looked around and heard all the teenagers sitting around me talk about how they had managed to get an invitation. Suddenly I felt undeserving to be sitting among them, to be seeing Lady Gaga when there are people suffering much worse than me who could also benefit from this experience. The positivity was flowing, and all eyes were on the two chairs in the center of the stage where Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga would sit.
When Oprah finally came out, all I could think was: It's Oprah! I kept repeating that over and over again, putting myself completely in the moment. I didn't want to forget a word of what she said, because when Oprah speaks, you listen! I was surprised at how real she was and how earnest she seemed to be about the foundation. She believed in the message and that we could make it come alive.
"We all want to know that what we do, what we say, and who we are matters," she said as she explained what the "Born This Way Foundation" saw in youth. Oprah stressed that she knew we all had the drive to make a change in the world, and Lady Gaga was giving us the vehicle. I came away from her speech with the feeling that I was about to be given the key to something very special. Also, I had just seen Oprah -- the highlight of my life!
Speaking from the perspective of the bullied, Oprah uttered one simple statement that got everyone clapping before she even finished: "Everybody comes to this Earth with the defiant right to be himself and herself."
I'll never forget that quote, and I suspect neither will anyone in that room. We all have a right to who we are, a natural born right. We also have the natural born right to scream at the sight of Lady Gaga... right?
When she finally came out onstage, Lady Gaga said: "Can I just say something before we start? We got Oprah!"
This joke seemed to break down all the barriers between fans and celebrity in the room. Oprah then interviewed Gaga about the foundation. Gaga looked professional in a long black dress, lace gloves and a black hair piece -- simple for her taste but perfect for the launch. It made her seem normal, despite her fame.
Answering Oprah's questions as honestly as possible, she explained that the foundation isn't about having all the answers. In fact she confessed that she "[wasn't there] to give answers or tell you [she could] solve all these problems. [It] is not an anti-bullying organization, it's a youth empowerment organization."
- Safety, by creating an environment where people feel safe to be and express themselves.
- Skills, to help us feel empowered to do something, to stand up and advocate.
- Opportunity, to provide us with skills and an environment to make a change.
What makes the "Born This Way Foundation" different also is its focus on helping not only the victims, but the bullies themselves.
"The victim and the bully are both going through mental turmoil. Don't just save the victim, save the bully," Gaga said.
Lady Gaga advised taking a very unique and bold stand, and so did a woman who also spoke on a panel at the event, psychologist Susan Swearer. Dr. Swearer mentioned that the complete destruction of a person's mental health that can be caused by bully -- an effect people often don't realize until too late.
Fielding questions from experts who sat on a fake "jury" -- or panel -- Lady Gaga acted as a true leader, leveling with the youth present in the theatre. Multiple times she stressed that she was simply giving us the tools, we had to use them, too. I really felt she gave everyone in the room that little push we needed to realize that we needed to intervene when we saw bullying, at any level, around us at school.
"Call upon yourself," Gaga stated, to roaring applause.
Gaga closed the show after taking some audience questions (I'm still kicking myself -- every question I had flew right out of my head!) and hearing from her mother and co-founder, Cynthia Germanotta.
Standing within arm's reach, I will put money down that I locked eyes with Lady Gaga. Once she left, I really began to realize the presence she had in the room. Gaga radiates a "make a change" attitude, without forcing it down your throat. She makes a mountainous issue in society seem simple and resolvable.
On a personal level, the event made me want to change. It made me want to do more for others because I realized how powerful a simple compliment can be. I was lucky enough to be asked to write about this event, and it makes me sad that you all couldn't be there. I commend Lady Gaga and Oprah for their ability to instill hope in the audience with simple words and a transition of the power to change, from them to us.
The "Born This Way Foundation" takes stories, takes donations, and gives you all the tools you could ask for. I truly believe it is a missing piece in the large puzzle. It won't solve everything, but it's a start. It's the catalyst I've been looking for.
Lady Gaga came to Harvard not to make a change, but to make us think. She wanted to let us know that, in the end, this has to start "from the ground up," and be an entire cultural change within society. When we left we were told to do only one thing, and that was tell one other person about the "Born This Way Foundation." I have taken that request and spread the word. I hope you take on the challenge as well. The key is in your hands, make a change and empower someone. It's that easy and that powerful.
Thank you again to Lady Gaga, Oprah, and Cynthia, the members of the panel, Harvard University, Elizabeth, and everyone at The Huffington Post. This is an experience that has truly changed how I view change. I could not be more honored to have been there.