She made clear her commitment to the Commonwealth on the day she married into the royal family, wearing a veil embroidered with flowers from each of its member nations. So it was somehow fitting that the Duchess of Sussex spent her last day on official royal duties in the UK focusing on the global network. Ahead of the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey on 9 March, Meghan met Commonwealth scholars at Buckingham Palace to hear about their plans to tackle challenges facing the 54 countries that make up the union.
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She was there in her role as Patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and was joined by students from 11 different countries – Malawi, India, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. They were split into four groups to reflect their research areas – climate and the environment, sustainable cities, health innovation and technology. But the Duchess told them: “Even though the groups are divided, everyone is connected because of this very holistic approach to tackling climate change. I love how solution based you all are.”
Meghan, who graduated from Northwestern University with a double major in Theatre and International Studies, "was thrilled to have the chance to meet inspirational scholars doing ground-breaking work in the fields of climate and the environment, sustainable cities, health and innovation and technology," said a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman. "As a university graduate who also benefitted from attending with support from a scholarship, The Duchess of Sussex is a strong advocate of accessible education for all,” she said.
Meghan Markle met with Commonwealth scholars earlier this week (Photo: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex / Chris Allerton)
Among the guests were Chevening scholars – supported by the scholarship programme that gives international students access to postgraduate study in the UK – and ACU Blue Charter fellow Timothy Biswick, from Malawi, who told Meghan about his work to tackle ocean plastic pollution. He later said: “She knows what she's talking about in terms of climate change. She was talking about things in quite some detail so you know that this person knows what they are talking about and are passionate about it."
The Duchess also discussed sustainable tourism, telling scholars how she and the Duke see “the link between tourism and how much money is going outside of the country instead of communities.” And she described how on their visits to Botswana – the country where they “camped out under the stars” in the very early days of their romance, she and Harry took a backpack and stayed in a tent. Halima Ali, a Kenyan lawyer researching energy and natural resources at Queen Mary University of London, said: “For Commonwealth and also African countries, to see her, her interest, her participation means a lot to us.”
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Meghan has since flown back to Canada (Photo: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex / Chris Allerton)
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Joanna Newman, Secretary General of the ACU said: “We believe that higher education and universities are an essential part of nation building and we want to build up healthy, strong, higher education systems across the Commonwealth and beyond. The Duchess really understands that and she’s a very powerful spokesperson for us.”
Meghan took over from The Queen as Royal Patron of The Association of Commonwealth Universities in January 2019, three months after announcing new grants for universities in the Pacific to promote gender equality. She also announced gender grants for ACU member universities in South Africa during her visit in September 2019 and met ACU students at University College London.
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