Photo: Aaron Hawkins via Flickr
Due to social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus, most schools around the country, from pre-school classrooms to universities, were unable to hold in-person graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020. Many schools decided to use Zoom or other video call platforms to simulate a ceremony, but YouTube wanted to go a little further to make this year’s graduates feel a bit more special.
On June 7, YouTube held a virtual graduation event called “Dear Class of 2020” in which celebrities and public figures took turns giving remote commencement speeches. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama headlined the event.
“Today is the culmination of a long journey,” President Obama said, kicking off the over four-and-a-half-hour event. “Think back to when you were starting your first year. You were probably just hoping that by graduation day you would’ve found your people, learned some new skills, got yourself ready for your next step. Maybe college, maybe grad school, maybe your first job. You accomplished all that, and just as you were rounding your final turn, the world through a pandemic your way.”
“So these past few months, you have had to reach even higher,” the First Lady chimed in. “You weren’t just adjusting to a virtual classroom, you were helping your teachers adjust their audio so that the rest of the class could hear. You weren’t just taking your finals online, you were making sure that your siblings had enough time on the computer, too, to do their work. And you weren’t just hanging out with your friends in that group chat, you were supporting them through all this uncertainty and loss.”
“That’s a lot to ask from anybody, but in spite of it all, here you are,” President Obama said. “We want you to know that all the work you put in to get your education is still one of the best investments that you can make. We’ve seen it for decades…the more education you have, the better you and your families are likely to fair. It’s been born out over the past couple of months and it will be the case for years to come. So you all have done something great. Hold your heads high and celebrate.”
Take a look at some of the most inspirational graduation quotes from the event.
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s commencement speech for the Class of 2020
“Congratulations to the class of 2020. You have arrived, here in the middle of a global crisis, a racial pandemic, and world-wide expression of outrage at the senseless killing of yet another unarmed black human being. And you still made it. We are so proud of you,” Knowles-Carter began.
Most of us have wondered how Knowles-Carter became so successful, well she provided an answer for the Class of 2020. “The shorter answer, put in that work,” Knowles-Carter said. “Please don’t ever feel entitled to win, just work harder.”
Knowles-Carter discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, the importance of education, and reminded the graduates to be grateful to the community that helped them get where they are today.
Knowles-Carter also discussed a “pivotal turning point” in her life when she decided to found her company, Parkwood Entertainment.
“I had to trust that I was ready and that my parents and mentors provided me with the tools I needed to be successful. But that was terrifying. The entertainment business is still very sexist, it’s still very male-dominated, and as a woman, I did not see enough female role models given the opportunity to do what I knew I had to do.”
Knowles-Carter emphasizes the importance of ownership and owning your own story.
“Not enough black women had a seat at the table, so I had to go chop down that wood and build my own table,” Knowles-Carter said.
When it comes to advice, Knowles-Carter emphasized embracing what is different about you, and not letting the negativity of others take away your focus from your dreams.
“To all those who feel different, if you are part of a group that’s called ‘other’, a group that does not get the chance to be center stage…build your own stage and make them see you,” Knowles-Carter said.
Watch Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s speech below:
President Obama’s commencement speech for the Class of 2020
Obama took back the metaphorical mic to address the class of 2020 with his own commencement speech. He noted that for many students their spring semester looked very different from what they expected, but graduation is only a culmination of all your experiences and growth.
“Don’t let the lack of a big, crowded ceremony take anything away from what your graduation signifies,” President Obama said. “Go ahead and bask in the glory of your achievement.”
President Obama discussed the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, but urged graduates to remember that it will all end eventually, and they will still have their whole life ahead of them.
The former president also discussed the problems that go beyond the virus, including “widening economic inequality, the lack of basic healthcare for millions of people, the continuous scourge of bigotry and racism, or the divisions and disfunction that plague our political system.”
President Obama also brought up a topic many are sick of hearing about, but is extremely relevant to the Class of 2020: the “new normal” of our world.
“As scary and uncertain as these times may be, they are also a wake up call, and they are an incredible opportunity for your generation, because you don’t have to accept what was considered normal before,” he said. “You don’t have to accept the world as it is. You can make it into the world as it should be, and could be. You can create a new normal. One that is fairer and gives everybody opportunity, and treats everybody equally, and builds bridges between people instead of dividing them.”
Watch President Obama’s speech below:
Taylor Swift’s commencement speech for the class of 2020
Country pop star Taylor Swift comforted the class of 2020 by letting them know that she was on tour during her high graduation, meaning her experience wasn’t exactly what she expected.
While Swift’s address was short in comparison to others, she told the class of 2020 to “expect the unexpected, but celebrate anyway.”
Watch Taylor Swift’s speech below:
Lady Gaga’s commencement speech for the Class of 2020
Pop singer Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, also dressed the class of 2020.
The singer started by noting that she recorded “a very different commencement speech” two weeks ago. At that time, she discussed the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although there is much to be sad about, there is also much to be celebrated,” Gaga said. “You are watching what is a pivotal moment in this country’s evolution.”
Watch Lady Gaga’s speech below:
You can watch the full event, with appearances from many other familiar faces, here.
Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.