Producer and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams was the graduation speaker at The Promise Academy, a Harlem Children’s Zone high school led by Geoffrey Canada and Anne Williams-Isom.
As a well-earned gift to the graduating class of 114 seniors (all of whom are going to college) Pharrell told the students on June 24 they would receive internships for the summer after their freshman year of college.
“So let me be clear, every member of the 2019 graduating class, is guaranteed an internship waiting for them, you, next summer,” he said.
“It’s one thing to be ‘woke,’ another to be awake, leaned in and engaged.”
This is a particularly significant gift considering the decline in the socioeconomic and racial representation of U.S. interns. Because most internships are either unpaid or the pay is very little, it’s especially difficult for students of color to be able to participate.
“Right now, we don’t know how many unpaid interns there are across the country, where they’re working or what communities they come from,” Jennifer Wang, policy director for Young Invincibles, said in a statement.
“That’s a big concern, especially because we could be leaving many young low-income people behind. We know that internships are often critical to launching careers, and so we’re worried about whether the people who need internships the most are getting them.”
Back in 2015, a federal Appeals Court recently ruled that companies may legally use unpaid interns if they benefit from the experience.
According to a 2014 survey of 43,000 graduating seniors by Koc’s group, 61 percent had some sort of internship experience during college, with more than half being unpaid.
A separate study commissioned by The Chronicle for Higher Education, and cited by the Brookings Institution, found that internships are the most important factor when it comes to deciding whether to hire a recent college graduate.