Image taken from Obama's digital commencement
On May 16, NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX broadcasted ‘Graduate Together’ in order to celebrate the Seniors of all levels, but more specifically high schoolers, whose year has been cut short due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. The program, hosted by Lebron James, featured a plethora of celebrities and other prominent personalities such as the Jonas Brothers, Megan Rapinoe,and Malala Yousafzai, but the star of the ceremony was Former President Barack Obama who provided a commencement speech to the graduates.
Back in April of this year, High School Senior Lincoln Debenham sent a tweet out to Obama asking him to provide a commencement to the seniors who, at this point, were uncertain about the future of this academic year. He mentioned how the seniors have become devastated due to missing events that they have looked forward to for years, from prom to graduation, to any other monumental moment. Over a month later, one day (as of the writing of this article) after the commencement speech, the tweet has over 46,700 Retweets and 228,400 Likes on Twitter. He added the #ObamaCommencement and now his wish has been granted.
The former President initially gave a commencement speech on “Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition” and is set to give a third speech on June 6th addressed to students all over the world.
While this speech was mainly for those graduating from high school, as a now-graduated College Senior who also dealt with many of the same moments ripped away from my last year, I felt that Obama’s speech could be extremely beneficial to me as well.
Obama started off by stating how proud he was of not only the graduating Seniors, but to the “teachers and the coaches and most of all parents and family who have guided you [the graduating seniors] along the way.” He brought up the many difficulties that seniors have had to face, from more individualized things such as illness or a parent losing a job, to more wide-spread problems like school shootings and climate change. Obama was brilliant in his dialect, acting relatable to the Generation Z, commenting on how students, as much as they love their families, are probably sick of them at this point and how he know that this is not how they envisioned the last few months of high school.
Even as a college student I can attest to the truth in this statement, especially as someone who has lived away from home for three and a half years and was all of a sudden forced to spend all of my time with my family. But also, while I am lucky that my family is in a position where we are not struggling during these difficult times, I personally know people who are. However, I feel this generation has grown up with many fears, like school shootings and climate change as Obama mentioned. I vividly remember every lockdown drill in middle school and high school, yet at that time no one took it seriously until near the end of my high school career. Yet I fear for my brother, who is still in high school, or my father who works in a school. This generation has faced so much and they are extremely resilient.
Obama went on, “What remains true is that your graduation marks your passage into adulthood… and due to the current state of the world, that might be kind of scary.” High School Seniors are uncertain about whether or not they will begin college on campus and College Graduates are uncertain about finding employment in a post-pandemic economy. Both sets of students are faced with an already difficult transition period, and this transition into two different stages of adulthood is even more difficult now.
Obama pointed out some of the problems within our country from massive income inequality to racial disparities and lack of healthcare. He said that the old way isn’t the best way and, frankly, it doesn't work anymore. Our society will only work if we come together and care about each other. This dilemma shows that adults don’t know all of the answers and aren't asking the right questions. It is now up to this generation for the world to get better which he deemed as terrifying yet also inspiring.
While I am older than the respective audience, I find hope in this statement due to the fact that I am an older member of this new generation. We, as in Generation Z, have the power to change the world, to vote for politicians, to ease climate change, to make advancements that past generations only dreamed of. We are a generation of the future and, although a bleak thought, our time to move forward is now.
Obama left us with three pieces of advice. The first: Don't be afraid; the United States has gone through so much, as Obama outlined the many historical events that have unfolded in our history. “We came out strong. Usually because a new generation, young people like you, learn from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better.”
The second piece of advice was Do What You Think is Right: he mentions how children take the easy way out. However, “a bunch of grown-ups including some with fancy titles, important jobs still think that way, which is why things are so screwed up.” This seems to be a direct jab at current President Donald Trump who many believe has not been doing enough during the pandemic to keep Americans safe. Obama called to hold onto values like hard-work and responsibility to ground our choices.
Finally, he called to Build a Community. No one is able to achieve huge things by themselves. It is important in these difficult times, in order to prevent future issues and make the world a better place, we must learn to come together. We need to leave behind the old ways of thinking and live for each other, despite race, gender or any other differing quality, instead of only for ourselves.
He finished by saying we, as in Generation Z, have already started to lead ourselves down a new path, away from the negativity that is holding us back. Obama provided a new hope for the future generation as one that will be able to persevere. We have gone through so much already and this monumental event will only make us stronger. We are the future of the world and our time is now.