The Class of 2020 didn’t get to walk across a stage in 2020 graduation ceremonies thanks to social distancing. Instead, the world’s young people were sheltering in place — or else out in the world protesting for racial justice.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to the extraordinary dual circumstances of a pandemic and widespread Black Lives Matter demonstrations facing the Class of 2020. Her commencement address was part of a YouTube Originals livestream on Sunday, which featured multiple public figures and celebrities in an event called Dear Class of 2020.
Obama did not mince words about how challenging the world looks right now, and some of the stark realities facing America. Her advice to graduates, however, was forward-looking, speaking to the class as a generation of young people with the anger and spirit to change the world for the better.
“We all have no choice but to see what has been staring us in the face for years, for centuries,” Obama said. “The question is: how will we respond?”
Obama proceeded to give graduates advice about how to build lives of empathy, purpose, and action. She acknowledged that the generation graduating in 2020 is one that has been defined by activism, particularly around climate change and gun violence. She concluded her speech by imploring the graduates to carry the lessons they’ve learned in these hard times into the creation of a better future.
“Even in tough times like these you continue to be what gives me hope,” Obama said. “Graduates, you all are exactly what we need right now, and for the years and decades to come. You’re learning so much so quickly, and i know not only can you do better than those who came before you, you will. So it’s your time. I love you all, I believe in you all, I want you to be safe, and I can’t wait to see you take the reins.”