LOS ANGELES – President Barack Obama said in a commencement speech Sunday that nationwide protests following the recent deaths of unarmed black women and men, including George Floyd, were fueled by “decades worth of anguish, frustration, over unequal treatment and a failure to perform police practices.” . ”
Obama along with his wife, Michelle, delivered speeches during YouTube’s “Dear Class of 2020” virtual ceremony. The duo, along with a wide-ranging, star-studded lineup including Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Tom Brady, offered inspirational messages in hopes of uplifting new graduates.
The former president told graduates that the coronavirus shined a light on a plethora of America’s ongoing issues.
“In a lot of ways, the pandemic just brought into focus problems that have been growing for a very long time,” he continued. “Whether it’s widening economic inequality, the lack of basic health care for millions of people, the continuing scourge of bigotry and sexism, or the division or dysfunction that plagued our political system.”
Obama added: “As scary and uncertain as these times may be, they are also a wake-up call. And an incredible opportunity for your generation. “
Michelle Obama said the ongoing protests following Floyd’s death were a “direct result of decades of unaddressed, prejudice and inequality.” She said she had those who were “scared or confused or angry, or just plain overwhelmed” with the events of the past few months.
“Over the past couple of months, our foundation has been shaken,” she said. “Not just by a pandemic that stole too many of our loved ones, upended our daily lives and sent tens of millions in unemployment, but also by the rumbling of age-old fault lines that our country was built on, the race lines. and that power is now once again so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with. “
Beyoncé delivered a 10-minute speech to the graduates. She spoke about recent protests as well as shared her secrets to success and the importance of ownership.
“You are achieving things your parents and grandparents never could have imagined for themselves,” she said. “You are the answer to a generation of prayers.”
Beyoncé advised graduates to believe in themselves as she did when the singer started her own company a decade ago. She said creating her own lane was challenging in a entertainment business that was still “very sexist” and “male-dominated.” The singer also said the protests have already made an impact.
“Look what has been able to do in the last 14 days,” she said. “I saw the power of the collective. We often see what happens when we join for the same cause. Please, continue to be the voice for the voiceless. ”
The four-hour ceremony was filmed over the last several weeks, but Lady Gaga decided to re-record her message. Her initial speech touched on the effect COVID-19 had on this graduating class, but she wanted to speak more on Floyd’s death, the Black Lives Matter movement and protests.
“While my original commencement speech may not be directly relevant to what this country most needs right now, I want to tell you today that although there is much to be sad about, there is also much to celebrate,” she said. “You are watching what is a pivotal moment in this evolution. … Change will happen, and it will be for the better. ”
Taylor Swift said her high school graduation was what she expected. The singer told a story about how she was on tour and unable to go to her own ceremony.
“I know this is the kind of graduation you thought you were going to have,” she said. “I ended up getting my diploma. … It was exactly what I had pictured. ”
Lizzo began the ceremony with a rousing performance. While wielding her flute, the “Truth Hurts” singer performed the classic “Pomp and Circumstance” before she congratulated graduates as the New York Philharmonic accompanied her.
Several music artists from Cynthia Erivo, Camila Cabello, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Ty Dolla $ ign, Khalid and others collaborated to sing U2’s rendition of “Beautiful Day.” Katy Perry led graduates in the ceremonial tassel turn at the end of the commencement celebration.