High school seniors may not get to experience in-person graduation ceremonies during the coronavirus pandemic, but LeBron James was determined to give them a star-studded virtual celebration to make up for it. On Saturday, May 16, James hosted an hour-long virtual event called "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" — and this multimedia graduation ceremony featured none other than former President Barack Obama as a speaker. The former president joined stars like the Jonas Brothers and Malala Yousafzai to celebrate 2020 graduates, and this video of Obama's graduation speech at "Graduate Together" was just as inspiring as you'd expect.
The former president began his speech on a lighthearted note, joking with the Class of 2020 that while some might be disappointed that they were missing out on a live graduation, "not that many people look great in those caps."
He then acknowledged the unique challenges that they've been faced with, such as the pressures of social media, climate change, and school shootings and violence, saying, "you're going to have to grow up faster than some generations."
Obama said, "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 healthcare for people who need it. It's woken a lot of young people up to the fact that the old ways of doing things just don't work."
The former president also took a moment to critique U.S. leaders' handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying, "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."
He concluded his speech with some words of advice for the graduating class: "Don't be afraid, do what you think is right, and build a community." Obama advised, "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."
The Lebron James Family Foundation organized "Graduate Together" in partnership with the Entertainment Industry Foundation and the education nonprofit XQ Institute. According to Variety, James' foundation worked with the XQ Institute to get the Obamas involved in "Graduate Together" after a high school senior in California named Lincoln Debenham tweeted on April 14 asking Obama to deliver a national commencement speech. Debenham's tweet quickly went viral as graduating students across the country got #ObamaCommencement2020 to trend on Twitter. Just weeks later, in early May 2020, Obama confirmed his participation in multiple graduation events, including "Graduate Together."
"Graduate Together" aired on all major TV networks on May 16, and featured a mix of singers, athletes, and social media influencers. From From Bad Bunny and Pharrell to Zendaya and Megan Rapinoe, celebrities across the country participated in James' effort to celebrate graduates. And, in addition to speaking at "Graduate Together," Obama is celebrating 2020 graduates in other ways. Earlier on May 16, Obama delivered a message to graduates during "Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition," a two-hour virtual commencement event for HBCU graduates.
But don't worry if you missed it, there's another celebration to come. On June 6, both Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama will deliver a nationwide commencement address for high school and college graduates during YouTube's “Dear Class of 2020” virtual event. The coronavirus pandemic may have stopped in-person events, but that doesn't mean you can't still celebrate your biggest educational milestones.
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