Students, shaking with excitement, filed into the first few rows of Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre for the launch of Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation. They wore black t-shirts with the "Born to be Brave" logo across the front. After everyone settled down, the doors closed and the lights dimmed.
Oprah Winfrey entered the stage to booming cheers and applause. Oprah, in the voice that she usually reserves to give away free gifts or introduce monumental celebrities, yelled “Harvaaaard!” The audience went insane. Oprah enthusiastically explained how joyful she was to attend the launch of the Born This Way Foundation. Winfrey expressed her desire to understand why bullying, violence, and hatred against young people continue in our society. She proclaimed that she “believes that every human being who comes to the planet comes with the inherent and divine right to be himself and herself ... every human being.” She wants everyone “to fulfill the highest expression of ourselves as human beings.”
As the light snow of the afternoon settled, Harvard Square seemed to be the embodiment of a Robert Frost poem this morning. However, the scene around the Sanders Theatre shattered the anachronistic setting, which Cambridge offered. Two small tents were set up, blasting pop hits of today (surprisingly, none that I heard were by Gaga), while little monsters in full Gaga costume danced as they waited for their bus to let them in. No, this was not an MBTA bus, but a decked out space where youth is encouraged to talk about anything they wish, and feel safe and supported. The bus was black, and had “BORN TO BE BRAVE” largely plastered on both sides of it. In the back, it had a logo for the Born this Way Foundation, along with its mission of “empowering youth” and “inspiring humanity.” Despite the cold, the little monsters were very excited to get the chance to kick off one of the first initiatives set by the new Born This Way Foundation.
I could not stay to see the grand opening, as I had to find the Holyoke Center and pick up a press ticket. Desperately, I asked 10 different adults for directions, all with no idea where the center was located. I interrupted a group of teenagers who looked slightly older than me, who I assumed were fans, as they were energetically taking pictures in front of the bus. They began to give me directions, until one of the girls agreed to just take me there, as she was on her way. While walking away, I noticed she was clutching a ticket to the event in her hand. My mother (who joined me on this trip) asked her how she was so familiar with the campus. She plainly said, “Oh, I’m a freshman at Harvard.” I could not believe that a student from the most prestigious university in the world would be interested in a pop star like Lady Gaga. She admitted that most of the campus was very excited about Gaga and Oprah’s visit to campus. She proudly explained how she won one of few tickets through a contest to attend the event — out of over 3,000 applicants from Harvard alone. As we were going our separate ways, when I asked what she was majoring in, she simply said “bio-medical engineering,” as if it were a simple subject. It was interesting to see how greatly Lady Gaga’s fans differ – while a boy by the bus in a “Born this Way” denim jacket spoke about how he does not go to college, a modest Harvard student with an extremely difficult major shares the same love for her music and her message.
I met up with a colleague from PolicyMic who was also covering this event. We anxiously picked up our tickets and press passes, and made our way back to the theatre. After settling into our seats, we conspired over everything from what Gaga would be wearing, to how the event would function. Students, shaking with excitement, filed into the first few rows of the Sanders Theatre wearing black t-shirts with the same logo across the front as the Born to be Brave bus. After everyone settled down, the doors closed and the lights dimmed. A sign language interpreter mounted the side of the stage to translate for deaf students invited to attend the event. The Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Dean Kathleen McCartney walked through a back stage door to the podium, to cheers and great applause from the audience. McCartney welcomed the audience to the forum, and introduced the event; she identified the BTWF’s many partners. She spoke about Harvard’s initial involvement with Lady Gaga. She said that the previous fall they invited Gaga to give a talk at Harvard about the importance of caring communities, but had no idea of the big plans she had for creating her own organization. She commended Lady Gaga, who has “already inspired countless young people to embrace individuality.” McCartney admitted that we, as the public, are fortunate to have Gaga setting us on the right track.
McCartney then introduced Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust. Faust introduced Oprah Winfrey, proclaiming that she is one of the world’s most powerful and influential individuals. She said that Oprah is a cultural icon who asks us to look within ourselves and learn how to do and be better. She stated that Oprah challenges us to read books and empathize with others, and that she models “bravery, kindness, acceptance and empowerment.” Oprah Winfrey entered the stage to booming cheers and applause. Oprah, in the voice that she usually uses only to give away free gifts or introduce monumental celebrities, yelled “Harvaaaard!” The audience went insane. Oprah enthusiastically explained how joyful she was to be attending the launch of the Born This Way Foundation. Winfrey expressed her desire to understand why bullying, violence and hatred against young people continues in our society. She proclaimed that she “believes that every human being who comes to the planet comes with the inherent and divine right to be himself and herself... every human being.” She wants everyone “to fulfill the highest expression of ourselves as human beings.”
She explained that in her 25 years of interviewing, every single person leaned in at the end of their interview and asked “Was I alright? Is that okay?” What she learned from this questioning is that “there is a common denominator in the human experience that we all share,” which is that we all want to be validated, we all want to know that what we do and say matters. She said that every single encounter and argument comes down to a few questions – us asking, “Do you see me? Does what I say mean anything to you?” She said that in Gaga, she has met a woman who stresses the importance of breaking the form, and making sure to “stop playing the game in order to change the content.”
Oprah then introduced Lady Gaga, and she ran onto the stage in her high heels to embrace Winfrey in a long hug. She cried and exclaimed, “We got Oprah!” Gaga was in her usual edgy fashion, in a long black dress, dangerously high black, shiny heels, and huge pinned up blonde hair wrapped in sparkly black mesh. While speaking, Gaga often paused for emotional emphasis, and broke her voice. Gaga proposed: how hard is it to change the world? “Not that hard,” she answered. She admitted that the day of the launch “might be one of the best days of my life.” And that she began her involvement in this foundation because of a dialogue between herself and her fans after her album, Born This Way. She expressed her desire to keep the conversation about bullying and youth empowerment going. Gaga explained the three pillars of her organization: SSO, or safety, skills, and opportunity. Gaga wants everyone to feel safe in their community. She wants everyone to be able to develop the skills needed to be a loving, accepting, and tolerant person. Lastly, she believes that once a person feels safe and acquires the skills from the first two pillars, that their opportunities are “endless” as a functioning member of society.
Her goal is not to just start a foundation, but build a movement. She said she was not there to give answers, she wants to start a transformational change in culture over a period of time.
Lady Gaga also announced the launch of the Born Bus that will follow her tour bus, and welcome everyone to come, hang out, and talk about love and acceptance. She joked that she wanted it to be like a tailgate party. When asked by Oprah about why she was involved in this cause, Gaga admitted that her mother inspires her, and her mother has always talked about giving back even before Gaga was Gaga. She recognized that many of her fans do not have a similar support system at home.
In conclusion, Gaga explained, “you are the answer, you are the future.” Laws will not make people change, even though she used to believe so, and that an enforced curriculum will not help. Instead she wants to empower youth to make the change.
Her goal is to change culture, and she believes that “little acts of kindness, these are the things that are going to change culture.” Lady Gaga recognizes that it is hard to be brave, and that she has very few answers, but is very passionate about this cause. Gaga proclaims-- “Let’s support youth to be ambassadors in each school to monitor and be a litmus test for love, kindness, and acceptance... I would like for everyone to see themselves as global leaders. I suppose that is what I mean when I say you are all born superstars.” She wants to create a climate in school where “young people know that they have the power to be brave, to be the one to say there is a problem here.”
She does not think that she is going to change the culture where kids are cruel and mean. But she hopes the culture performs a “psychological autopsy on bullies and victims,” so that people can understand what breeds anger and hatred. She wants it to be “cool” to be the kid that says that something is not quite right, and wants “it to become cool to be aware about life, society, and violence.” Gaga talked about her partnership with Blue State Digital to create a social media environment that fosters the ideas that her mission supports: kindness, bravery, acceptance and empowerment.
Gaga wants to work with as many students as possible, because she thinks “so much of the Born This Way Foundation is about information.” She wants youth to contact her organization, so that the BTWF can learn as much as possible. She says that “if you have revolutionary potential, you must make the world a better place and use it.” Gaga wants her organization to spread her message in an innovative way through technology. But overall, she really wants acceptance within the classroom.
It is clear that this organization is truly in its beginning stages. Gaga admitted that she was very redundant in her answers, because she is not as informed as she would like to be on empowering youth. From this event, there were two moments that really got me thinking about her cause – one positively, and one negatively.
In response to a question, Professor Swearer explained that the foundation wants to have parent training, teacher training and school administration training, so the adults in the system can support the youth movement. In an intense moment, Gaga interrupted her – and said, “I love you, but I’m just, you know. I don’t think that works. I don’t know that teachers even give a sh**.”
I was so happy she said this. As she explained, we’ve been reliant on adults to combat bullying, and it has not been working. Because of my experiences with teachers, I fully believe that only students have the capability (and the greatest desire) to change the terrible climate that is occurring in high schools.
One statement from Lady Gaga concerned me. Oddly, but I think not coincidentally, it was edited out of the event’s YouTube video. Gaga stated that cyber-bullying “is not” a major problem. Her justification was hard to understand. While in my last article I praised Gaga for her knowledge on every aspect of this subject, I believe she was just wrong on this question, which shows that she still has some things to learn about bullying. Especially in front of the panelist Alyssa Rodemeyer, whose brother was severely cyber-bullied, Gaga’s statement did not make sense.
While the launch was broadcasted live, fans still made cruel and mean comments about celebrities that rival Gaga’s fame. I am unsure whether Gaga's message was received by the little monsters, I guess only time will tell.
Editor’s note: This article is part of our ongoing coverage of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which Natalie covered the event live from Cambridge. Natalie won the competition for aspiring High School journalists, receiving over 700 mics on her debate!
Photo Credit: Natalie Silver.