Obama encourages new graduates to embrace unity in commencement speech

Former President Barack Obama on Saturday encouraged 2020 high school graduates to embrace unity to solve the world’s problems amid the coronavirus pandemic.

During a virtual commencement speech to American’s high school seniors, the former president offered “three 
quick pieces of advice” to take advantage of the power that rests in young people’s hands for the future. 

“First,” Obama said, “Don’t be afraid. America’s gone through tough times before — slavery, civil war, famine, disease, The Great Depression and 9/11.” 

“And each time, we came out stronger,” he continued. 

Obama added, “Second, do what you think is right. Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy — that’s how little kids think.

“Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way — which is why things are so screwed up,” he continued, in an apparent jab to the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic. 

Thirdly, the former president encouraged young adults to come together and build a community.

“No one does things by themselves,” said Obama. “Right now when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say, ‘Let me just look out for myself, or my family, or people who look or think or pray like me.’ But if we are going to get through these difficult times ; if we are going to create a world where everybody has opportunity to find a job, and afford college; if we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re gonna have to do it together.”

The message from the Democratic former president comes just hours after Obama addressed college graduates from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

During his speech, Obama pointed to racial disparities that have been underscored during the coronavirus pandemic and alluded to the shooting of 25-year-old jogger Ahmaud Arbery. 

“Let’s be honest: a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities historically had to deal with in this country,” Obama said earlier Saturday. 

“We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop, question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit,” he added, referring to Arbery. 

Obama, who has stayed relatively silent since leaving office in 2017 and has rarely directly criticized the Trump administration, did so subtly for the second time Saturday evening, saying U.S. leaders are lagging in their response to the pandemic.

“[The pandemic] also pulled the curtain back on another hard truth,” he said.

“All those adults who act like they know what they are doing: Turns out they don’t have all the answers. Some of them aren’t even asking the right questions. With all the challenges that the country faces right now.”

The former president said that most of the progress the country has made has come after young leaders have addressed issues of their predecessors. 

“So, if the world is going to get better, it’s going to be up to you,” Obama added. 

Tags Barack Obama Commencement Coronavirus high school students Pandemic virtual graduation
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