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Obama: COVID-19, police protests a ‘wake-up call’ for 2020 graduates

president Barack Obama speaks via zoom from his home against a library wall

Former President Obama told the class of 2020 on Sunday that unprecedented pressures felt by their generation due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and mass demonstrations against police brutality and racism represented a “wake-up call” for graduates.

In a virtual address delivered as part of YouTube’s remote graduation ceremony for 2020 graduates, the former president said that the two competing crises meant that the status quo was not “working that well” for many Americans.

“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,” Obama said.

“The challenges we face go beyond a virus,” he added. “The old normal wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t working that well.”

Obama went on, calling on 2020 graduates and all Americans to look out for the well-being of their communitites.

“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 divisions and dysfunction that plague our political system,” said the former president. “Similarly, the protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and Nina Pop, aren’t simply a reaction to those particular tragedies, as heartbreaking as they are, they speak to decades worth of anguish and frustration over unequal treatment and a failure to reform police practices in the broader criminal justice system.”

“These shocks to the system that we’re seeing right now, just as you prepare to go out into the world, they remind us that we can’t take things for granted, we have to work to make things better,” he continued. “They remind us that our individual well-being depend on the well-being of the community that we live in and it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick, it reminds you that our country and our democracy only function when we think not just about ourselves, but also about each other.”

The former president’s comments come as cities across the U.S. have been engulfed by protests over the deaths of George Floyd and other black Americans during encounters with the police, and in particular over a video of Floyd’s arrest which showed him handcuffed on the ground while a white officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.

One officer has been charged with second-degree murder over the incident and three others face lesser charges.

The mass demonstrations arose as millions of Americans reported job losses due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has shuttered nonessential businesses across the U.S. as more than 110,000 have died. Nearly two million Americans have been infected with the virus since tracking began a few months ago, and health experts warn that large public gatherings such as the ongoing protests could cause that number to rise further.

Updated at 9:20 p.m.

Tags 2020 graduation Barack Obama Black Lives Matter George Floyd protests

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