SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Former President Barack Obama shared a powerful message in a graduation speech shared to social media on Saturday.
Obama congratulated the class of 2020 and emphasized the importance their generation has on the future.
He talked about overcoming so many obstacles, from personal circumstances such as an illness or a parent losing a job, to more broad issues such as reports of school shootings and the specter of climate change.
After going through all of that — the coronavirus pandemic came about.
“Just as you’re about to celebrate having made it through, looking forward to proms & senior nights, graduation ceremonies — the world turned upside down by a global pandemic,” Obama said.
As this realization has struck several seniors hard and become an emotional topic, the former president lightened things up with a couple of jokes in an effort to assure seniors they will be OK.
“I’ll be honest with you, the disappointments of missing a live graduation, those will pass pretty quick,” he said. “I don’t remember much of my own high school graduation. I know that not having to sit there and listen to a commencement speaker isn’t all that bad, mine usually go on way too long. Also not too many people look good in those grad caps, especially if you have big ears like me.”
He also reassured that graduates will be able to reconnect with friends once the public health crisis is over, and emphasized that with so much unclear right now — what remains true is that you graduated and are now on your way into adulthood.
The former president talked about the impact the pandemic has had in the country.
“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 to people who need it,” he said.
Though a very somber crisis, one positive thing, Obama said, is how the youth have responded.
“It’s woken a lot of young people up to the fact that the old way of doing things just don’t work. It doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone else around you is hungry and sick,” he said. “And that our society and our democracy only work when we think not only about ourselves, but about each other.”
The power of the youth seemed to be a theme in Obama’s speech.
“Something we have to accept once our childhood comes to an end — all those adults you used to think where in charge and knew what they were doing, turns out they don’t have all of the answers,” he said. “Turns out they’re not even asking the right questions. With so much uncertainty… this is your generation’s world to shape.”
After referring to himself as “one of the old guys”, the former president said he’s not going to recommend what to do with your power, but instead left graduates with three pieces of advice.
Number one: don’t be afraid.
Obama said the country has gone through tough times before, like slavery, the Civil War, famine, disease, the Great Depression and 9/11.
“Each time we came out stronger, usually because a new generation,” he said. “Young people like you learn from past mistakes and figure out how to make things better.”
His second piece of advice: do what you think is right.
Doing what feels good, what’s convenient and what’s easy is how little kids think, Obama said.
“Unfortunately, that’s how 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 said. “I hope you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others.”
And lastly, build a community.
Obama said during times like these, it’s easy to be cynical and just look out for yourself, your family or people who think or pray like you. But he stressed the importance of working together.
“If we’re going to get through these difficult times, if we’re going to create a world where everybody has an 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,” he said. “Be alive for each other’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.”
After providing those three tips, the former president signed off with a simple but strong message.
“Congratulations, class of 2020. Keep making us proud.”
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