A hearty congratulations to the class of 2020 at all levels of education! You made it against the odds!
President Barack Obama’s virtual commencement addresses on May 16, 2020 during the “Show Me Your Walk H.B.C.U. Edition” for the historically black colleges and universities graduates and the “Graduate Together” event for graduating high school students captured the unique essence of graduating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Obama told the HBCU graduates:
But these aren’t normal times. You’re being asked to find your way in the world in the middle of a devastating pandemic and terrible recession. The timing is not ideal. And let’s be honest – a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country. We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.
Injustice like this isn’t new. What is new is that so much of your generation has woken up to the fact that the status quo needs fixing; that the old ways of doing things 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 democracy only works when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other.
Then President Obama gave the following 3 pieces of advice to the graduating high school students:
First, don’t be afraid. America’s gone through tough times before – slavery and civil war, famine and disease, the Great Depression and 9/11. And each time we came out stronger, usually because a new generation, young people like you, learned from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better.
Second, do what you think is right. Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy – that’s how little kids think. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way – which is why things are so screwed up. I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others. You won’t get it right every time, you’ll make mistakes like we all do. But if you listen to the truth that’s inside yourself, even when it’s hard, even when its inconvenient, people will notice. They’ll gravitate towards you. And you’ll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
And finally, build a community. No one does big things by themselves. Right now, when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say let me just look out for myself, or my family, or people who look or think or pray like me. But if we’re going to get through these difficult times; 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. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us – sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed – and set the world on a different path.
You can find both President Obama’s entire speeches at this link.