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Former President Obama Offers Inspiring Words to the Graduating Class of 2020

"Set the world on a different path," Obama urged the graduates

Allison Picurro

To make up for the cancellation of graduations around the country, one very special guest showed up to help send the students off into the future. Former President Barack Obama gave two different commencement speeches this weekend, one for the graduates of historically black colleges and universities, and one that was aired as part of Graduate Together: High School Class of 2020 Commencement, which was streamed across all the major networks Saturday night. The LeBron James-organized special had appearances from James himself, the Jonas Brothers, Timothée Chalamet, Dua Lipa, and more, but the part that really had everyone abuzz was Obama's address at the top of the evening.

After offering his congratulations and pride in the students graduating, as well as the educators who got them there, Obama leaned into comedy, proving he still has all the jokes. "As much as I'm sure you love your parents, I bet that being stuck at home with them, playing board games or watching Tiger King wasn't exactly how you envisioned the last few months of your senior year," he quipped, shortly before poking fun at himself for giving speeches that go on "way too long."

While he kept the mood loose, he also took time to comment on the very serious issues that the coronavirus pandemic has brought forward. "You're gonna have to grow up faster than some generations," he told the graduates. "This pandemic has laid bare a lot of our country's deep-seated problems." 

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He made a quick mention of his disappointment in the way the current government has handled the COVID-19 crisis, telling the graduates that adults in charge are the ones without answers. However, Obama quickly brought it back around to stating his full confidence in the young people he was speaking to. "If the world's gonna get better, it's gonna be up to you," Obama said.

As one of the self-proclaimed "old guys," Obama finished his speech with some advice that we can probably all get behind. He urged the class of 2020 not to be afraid of the world around them, to do what they think is right and prioritize their personal values, and to denounce cynicism and build a community, because, "No one does big things by themselves."

"Set the world on a different path," Obama urged the graduates in the last few moments of his address, reminding everyone of his and former First Lady Michelle Obama's Obama Foundation, which aims to help communities organize. "But the truth is, you don't need us to tell you what to do, because in so many ways, you've already started to lead."

Barack and Michelle Obama will also be headlining YouTube's virtual Dear Class of 2020 event on Saturday, June 6. 

Barack Obama

  Barack Obama