“Graduation is a big achievement under any circumstances, yours comes as the world is turned upside down,” Barack Obama said today in his latest remote commencement speech to the graduates of 2020. “By a global pandemic and by a country that has been swept up by protests,” the incredibly popular former President added of both the devastating coronavirus and the wide spread reaction on the streets to the killing of George Floyd by police late last month.
“I can barely imagine how head-spinning these last few months have been for you,” an obviously mindful of the moment Obama told those watching YouTube’s Dear Class of 2020 event online, and asked them to embrace values “like responsibility, fairness, generosity, and respect for others so that they can be “part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
As in previous public statements of late, Obama never said the name Donald Trump, but left no one unclear who he was spotlighting as gaslighting the divisions in America for personal and ideological gain. “Democracy isn’t about relying on some charismatic leader to make changes from on high,” he proclaimed, as you can see in the video above. “It’s about finding hope in ourselves, and creating it in others. Especially in a time like this. You don’t always need hope when everything’s going fine. It’s when things seem darkest — that’s when you need it the most.”
“The thing is, Class of 2020, what these past few weeks have shown us is that the challenges we face go well beyond a virus, and that the old normal wasn’t good enough — it wasn’t working,” Obama declared in what has become a semi-regular role for the former President to provide national leadership in the absence of such traits coming from the former Celebrity Apprentice host currently in the White House.
“In a lot of ways, the pandemic just brought into focus problems that have been growing for a very long time, whether it’s widening economic inequality, the lack of basic health care for millions of people, the continuing scourge of bigotry and sexism, or the divisions and dysfunction that plague our political system,” the two-term Democrat said, with millions out protesting right now both domestically and internationally despite the continuing threat of COVID-19 and the more than 100,000 American lives it has taken.
“Similarly, the protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and Nina Pop aren’t simply a reaction to those particular tragedies, as heartbreaking as they are,” America’s first African-American Commander-in-Chief made clear. “They speak to decades worth of anguish and frustration over unequal treatment and a failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system.”
Noting that looking ahead can be “downright scary” right now for this year’s graduates, Obama offered that they and the world face “more profound challenges than any generation in decades.”
In his third remote commencement speech in less than a month and his second public statement the past week following the May 25 killing of Floyd by now arrested and fired Minneapolis cops, the increasingly harder hitting 44th POTUS today also never said Facebook but did call out the platforms of social media as being used by some as a “tool to spread conflict, division and falsehoods — to bully people and promote hate.”
The pre-recorded Obama went on to warn against “reading only news and opinions that reinforce our own biases and start canceling everything else out; we let opinion masquerade as fact and treat even the wildest conspiracy theories as worthy of consideration.” Making the point even sharper, he went on to say: “And the irony is that usually the people who are peddling falsehoods on the Internet or social media are doing so for their own purposes — either to sell you something or to distract you from the real issues that matter.”
Kicked off by the once First Couple, and featuring forthright solo remarks by Michelle Obama, today’s YouTube ceremony also saw appearances by Beyoncé, a “change will happen” promising Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, and Taylor Swift.
See the speech by the former First Lady here:
So much has changed so quickly. And if any of you are confused or scared or angry—or just plain overwhelmed—I just want you to know that you aren’t alone. I am feeling all that, too. And I have a few things I want to say about it. https://t.co/kUZeBzC8xP pic.twitter.com/0zOQpEcX9K
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) June 7, 2020
Former cabinet secretaries Condoleezza Rice and Bob Gates also appeared, as did Missy Elliott, Seth Rogen, Bill Porter, Chris Pine, Billie Eilish, Lizzo and Alicia Keys, among others.
Set to fill the gap by ceremonies shuttered due to the COVID-19 crisis, the four-hour livestreamed event was originally scheduled for June 6. However, the star-studded occasion moved to today last week in honor of the George Floyd’s memorial service that was held in Raeford, North Carolina yesterday.
Following a previous ceremony in the Minnesota city on June 4, there will also be a public memorial in Floyd’s adopted hometown of Houston tomorrow and private service on June 9. Having spoken out strongly in recent days against the police violence and systemic racism that caused Floyd’s death, Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s Vice-President and the Democrats’ nominee for President this year, is expected to attend the ceremony in Texas as a guest of the family
“Peaceful protests and demonstrations are patriotic — they shine a light on injustice, they raise public awareness, and they make the folks in charge uncomfortable in a way that is healthy,” Obama stated on Sunday in language and tone polar opposite to what saber-rattling Donald Trump has shot off in recent days. “After all, we’re a nation that was founded on protest,” he added with a poignant history lesson.
“Go ahead and bask in the glory of your achievement and where ever you are, take lots of photos, Obama said in more lighthearted tones. “Congratulations, Class of 2020,” he concluded. “Make it mean something. And keep making us proud.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.