The Duchess of Sussex made a surprise commencement speech to the graduating class of Immaculate Heart High School at their virtual ceremony late Wednesday evening.
"She had planned to share a heartfelt congratulations to the class of 2020, who have worked so hard over the past four years, by sharing some words of support, encouragement, and offering some memories of her own time at the school," a spokesperson for Meghan said. "However, in the video message she shared, she felt compelled to directly address and speak to these young women about what’s happening in this country right now around the killing of George Floyd — as well as what’s been happening over many, many years and many, many generations to countless other black Americans."
Sources tell PEOPLE that Meghan's "heart hurts" for the young people who are graduating into a world of "injustice," and that she hopes that her words provided a "small bit of hope, comfort, or inspiration" to the school community as they head out into the world.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle
Talking to the students in the six-minute address, Meghan revealed that it was difficult for her to find the words to sum up her feelings regarding the death of Floyd and the social unrest in the country.
"What is happening in our country and in our state and in our hometown of L.A. has been absolutely devastating. I wasn’t sure what I could say to you," Meghan, 38, said. "I wanted to say the right thing and I was really nervous that I wouldn’t, or that it would get picked apart. And I realized the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing because George Floyd’s life mattered and Breonna Taylor’s life mattered and Philando Castile’s life mattered and Tamir Rice's life mattered, and so did so many other people whose names we know and whose names we do not know."
Meghan recalled a time when she was volunteering during her sophomore year at the all-female school when one of her former teachers told her to "always remember to put other’s needs above your own fears."
"That has stuck with me throughout my entire life, and I have thought about it more in the last week than ever before,” she explained. "I am so sorry that you have to grow up in a world where this is still present."
Samir Hussein/WireImage Archie, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Meghan — who moved back to Los Angeles with husband Prince Harry, 35, and son Archie, 1, in March — went on to describe how her hometown was hit by riots when she was 11 or 12 years old, following the violent beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991.
Saying that the historic event was "also triggered by senseless acts of racism," the duchess reflected on the tragic time.
"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 and seeing the smoke billow out of buildings, and seeing people run out of buildings carrying bags and looting," she recalled.
"I remember seeing men in the back of a van just holding guns and rifles. I remember pulling up the house and seeing the tree, that had always been there, completely charred. And those memories don’t go away," Meghan continued. “I am sorry that in a way we have not gotten to the place where you deserve it to be."
Karwai Tang/WireImage Meghan Markle
Concluding her speech, Meghan told the students that all the skills and values “you have embodied over the last four years” puts them in a strong position to “to be part of" the "rebuilding.”
“I know you know that Black Lives Matter. I am already excited for what you are going to do in the world. You are ready, we need you and you are prepared," Meghan said. "I’m so proud to call each of you a fellow alumni. I am cheering you on, all along the way. I am exceptionally proud of you."
Steve Parsons/PA Wire Meghan Markle and Doria Ragland
Meghan spoke candidly about her unique experiences with racism as a biracial woman in a 2012 campaign that recently resurfaced. Wearing a T-shirt with the words "I Won't Stand For Racism," she said, "Most people can’t tell what I'm mixed with, and so much of my life has felt like being a fly on the wall. And so some of the slurs I've heard or the really offensive jokes, or the names, it's just hit me in a really strong way."
She continued by bringing up an experience with her mother, Doria Ragland.
"You know, a couple of years ago I heard someone call my mom the N-word. So I think for me, beyond being personally affected by racism, just to see the landscape of what our country is like right now, certainly the world, and to want things to be better," she continued.
"I am really proud of my heritage on both sides. I'm really proud of where I've come from and where I'm going," Meghan concluded. "But yeah, I hope that by the time I have children that people are even more open-minded to how things are changing and that having a mixed world is what it's all about. I mean, certainly, it makes it a lot more beautiful and a lot more interesting."
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.