Screenshot taken from Barack and Michelle Obama: Dear Class of 2020 video
Sunday, June 7th, YouTube live streamed their “Dear Class of 2020” Graduation Ceremony. Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic that has been disrupting the natural flow of things for the past few months, graduation ceremonies for seniors all over the world have been canceled. As Justin Timberlake said early into the ceremony “We are going to show the world how resilient you really are.” While the accomplishments of these graduates might not be possible, YouTube attempted to bring the commencement to the screen, bringing in guests such as Beyoncé, the Obamas, Lady Gaga and so many more.
The original date of the ceremony had originally been set for Friday June 5th. However, due to the conflict with George Floyd’s memorial service, the event was moved two days ahead.
The four-and-a-half hour long ceremony opened with Lizzo performing a flute rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance” alongside the New York Philharmonic. The greenscreen behind her broadcasted pictures of seniors in their caps and gowns, many of which were worn at the protests occurring earlier this week in response to the murder of George Floyd and police brutality.
“Dear Class of 2020” Alicia Keys declares as she enters the screen. She immediately provides transparency to the events occurring regarding the protests, on top of the Coronavirus: “It’s been a hard week. A hard week and a hard month and a hard year, and right now it might not feel like there’s a lot to celebrate. And that’s okay. It’s okay not to be okay right now.”
This line brings a glimmer of hope for not just seniors, but for everyone. 2020 just seems to keep attacking us over and over again, as if it was a constant roundhouse kick that just never ends. And on many days, it appears that there is little hope. But it is okay to not be okay; it will get better. She mentions how we, the young graduates, want our voices to be heard, we march and protest and refuse to be silent. Keys states how we are taking our heartbreak and turning it into change. I keep saying ‘we’ as I will take myself and my peers into this category too; us college graduates, part of the same generation as the high school seniors, have been speaking out against the injustices of the world and we have refused to stay silent. Our generation will heal the world.
The first appearance of the Obamas recognizes the long journey that seniors have walked. A moment that all seniors, including myself, have waiting for, just for “a pandemic to be thrown your way,” as Barack Obama puts it lightly. In spite of it all, seniors made it through. Michelle Obama’s humor as she starts dancing in front of the screen allows for a laugh instead of disappointment of this unprecedented time. They end by congratulating the Class of 2020, and tell them to get ready for a once in a lifetime event.
The next major commencement speech comes from the likes of Beyoncé. While many of the speeches were filmed weeks in advance, Beyoncé filmed hers only shortly prior. She highlights how the graduates are entering the new phase of their life in “the middle of a global pandemic, racial crisis, and world-wide expression of outrage at the senseless killing of yet another unarmed black human being. And you still made it.” She thanks and praises the graduates for using their voice to show that Black Lives Matter. Beyoncé’s reflects on how change starts with this new generation.
When Michelle Obama enters next, she is alone. She addresses herself not as the former first lady, but as a real life person, “a mother, a mentor, a citizen concerned about your future and the future of our country.” Obama recognizes that it is okay to be confused by the situation. She calls the racial injustice an issue brought on by the age-old fault lines that our country was established on, not something random that simply just appeared. The reality of America is a lot more complicated than what our history books like to make it out to be. Nobody has all of the answers. Her words seem to bring comfort in a time of unknown.
The ceremony continues with performances from Alicia Keys, a pregant Katy Perry, Noah Cyrus, and many others; special appearances also include the cast of Schitt’s Creek, author John Green (which I can attest that almost all senior girls/women no matter in high school or college read), The Try Guys from YouTube, and even make-up artists.
To stray slightly away from the pandemic or protests, Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley from Star Wars read portions of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. This moment struck a chord for me as it has been read many times on the last day of my schooling career whenever I was moving onto a new school or stage in my life. In a way, hearing it read to me one last time felt almost nostalgic, as if I was back in my eighth grade classroom once again and my English teacher was reading to us, preparing us for our move to high school.
Throughout the event, YouTube progressively continues to highlight seniors who didn’t have the chance to walk, recognizing their achievements.
Barack Obama closes out the ceremony with a Congratulations to the Class of 2020, marking that we should all be proud. Graduation is an important moment for everyone, “Yours comes as the world turns upside down, by a pandemic, and a country swept up by protest. I can barely imagine how head-spinning these months have been for you." Graduation is a culmination of learning about yourself and the world after all of this time. Obama admits that we, the seniors, are entering a world with more challenges than any generation in decades, but the world will eventually heal and we will still have our whole lives ahead of us.
The old normal wasn’t good enough, but the pandemic emphasized problems that have been escalating over time, he claims. The protests over the lives lost at the hands of violence, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, speaks to “decades worth of anguish and frustration.”
These times are a wake up call and an opportunity for this generation. “You don’t have to consider the world as it was before. You don’t have to accept the world as it is… you can create a new normal.” He prides the younger generation on how they have handled the situation at hand, by refusing to stay silent. As he ends his speech, he says “America changed, has always changed, because young people dared to hope.” And he is right, each generation has fought for change, our time is just now. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if the generation continues to push for the change.
YouTube’s “Dear Class of 2020” brought about a feeling of togetherness in a moment of unknowns. This is a scary time to graduate, to enter the world, to realize that your actions have an effect on the world. Yet what does not seem scary is that the world is cheering us on, and this event made this moment seem viable. While the world might be overrun by a pandemic or protest over police brutality, or racial injustice, the “Dear Class of 2020” provides hope and security that change will come.