As schools and universities shut down in March due to the pandemic of COVID-19, many commencement ceremonies around the world were canceled, being replaced with virtual ceremonies instead. Barack and Michelle Obama, along with other celebrities, addressed the class of 2020 in a virtual “Dear Class of 2020” YouTube commencement celebration.

In his speech, former U.S. president highlighted the challenged of today’s time, noting both the pandemic and social issues.

“In a lot of ways, the pandemic just brought into focus problems that have been growing for a very long time,” he said, “whether it’s widening economic inequality, the lack of basic healthcare for millions of people, the continuing scourge of bigotry and sexism, or the divisions and dysfunctions that plague our political system.”


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He also highlighted that the ongoing nationwide George Floyd protests are “not simply the reactions to these particular tragedies” but rather speak to the long-term issues, being the consequences of “decades of anguish and frustration over unequal treatment and a failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system.”

In her speech, Michele Obama similarly acknowledged the ongoing movement in the country.

“If you don’t feel safe driving your own car in your own neighborhood, or going for a jog, or buying some candy at 7/11, or bird-watching – if you can’t even approach the police without fearing for your life – well, how do you begin to chart your own course?” she asked.

Talking about the uncertainties that recent graduates are experiencing, the former first lady offered them her personal life lessons to help them make sense of today’s world.

She spoke of her personal experience of living through the death of her father and her best friend in her late twenties, saying she felt “like my whole world was collapsing in on itself.” She, however, said challenges bring more “clarity.”

Michelle further underlined concepts of “time-tested values like honesty and integrity, empathy and compassion,” saying these traits are “the only real currency in life.”

She also urged graduates to share their voices and channel anger into power by fighting for the public good, expressing hope for the young generation.

“I’ve seen you speaking out to end gun violence and fight climate change. I’ve seen you gathering donations for those in need during this pandemic, I’ve seen you marching with peace and with purpose. And that is why even in tough times like these, you continue to be what gives me hope,” Michelle said.

“If you’re spending a lot of time just hashtagging and posting right now, that’s useful, especially during a pandemic,” Michelle added. “But it’s only a beginning. Go further. Send all your friends a link to register to vote.”

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