Following performances from Dua Lipa, H.E.R., Kevin Hart and others, former president Barack Obama addressed the teens graduating high school amid a pandemic.
“I couldn’t be prouder of all of you in the graduating class of 2020 as well as the teachers and the coaches and, most of all, parents and family who’ve guided you along the way,” Obama began during the Saturday night nationally televised event called Graduate Together: America Honors the Class of 2020.
He then acknowledged this class’s particular challenges shaped by this unprecedented moment. “Along with the usual challenges of growing up, all of you have had to deal with the added pressures of social media, reports of school shootings, and the specter of climate change,” he said.
“And then, just as you’re about to celebrate having made it through, just as you’ve been looking forward to proms and senior nights, graduation ceremonies and, let’s face it, a bunch of parties, the world is turned upside down by a global pandemic.”
Obama continued by recognizing the uncertain and strange new future these graduates will face and reminded them not just to think of themselves but to consider others’ wellbeing. “You’re gonna have to grow up faster than most generations. This pandemic has shaken up the status quo and laid bare a lot of our country’s deep-seated problems. From massive economic inequality to ongoing racial disparities to a lack of basic health care for people who need it,” he said. “It’s woken a lot of people up to the fact that the old ways of doing things just don’t work. That it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick. And that our society and our democracy only work when we think not just about ourselves but about each other.”
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He then challenged the graduating class to “set the world on a different path,” saying, “If we’re going to create a world where everybody has the opportunity to find a job, and afford college; if we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles.”
The former president concluded with a message of hope, telling the graduates, “The truth is you don’t need us to tell you what to do. Because in so many ways, you’ve already started to lead.”
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