A year ago, most of the world hadn’t heard of Lupita Nyong’o — but in her acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar she just took home for her work in 12 Years a Slave, she reminded viewers that there’s a long history behind how she got to that stage.
“It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is due to so much pain in someone else’s,” she said in reference to Patsey, the slave she portrayed in the acclaimed film, which was based on a real-life memoir.
In addition to thanking the usual Academy Awards suspects — castmates, her drama school, the Academy — she drew attention to the real people whose stories she helped bring to the big screen: Speaking to director Steve McQueen, she noted that the dead are watching, and that she believes “they are grateful” that he brought their history back to life.
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But her speech didn’t just stick to the past. In a tear-jerking conclusion, she expressed her wish that her unknown-to-Oscars trajectory would inspire someone watching at home to go for it — because, as she explained: “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”
Watch her speech above.
More: Lupita Nyong’o shot by photographer Sebastian Kim for TIME