“We won’t solve anything if we’re only willing to do what’s easiest.”
It’s a funny time to be a graduate, isn’t it? However, while the ongoing coronavirus lockdown has caused graduation ceremonies to be cancelled across the world, celebrities and public figures have joined forces for YouTube Original’s ‘Dear Class of 2020’ special.
The prerecorded event featured speeches from the likes of Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, and Michelle Obama – each of whom has made it their mission to rally and inspire young people during this time of uncertainty.
Obama, responding to the anti-racism protests taking place globally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, said: “Over these past couple of months, our foundation has been shaken. Not just by a pandemic that stole too many of our loved ones, upended our daily lives, and sent tens of millions into unemployment, but also by the rumbling of the age-old fault lines that our country was built on: the lines of race and power that are now, once again, so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with.”
The former First Lady continued: “So, if any of you are scared, or confused, or angry, or just plain overwhelmed by it all, if you feel like you’re searching for a lifeline just to steady yourself, you are not alone. I am feeling all of that, too. I think we all are.
“It’s OK to be confused. It’s OK if you don’t understand exactly what you’re feeling… if you don’t feel safe driving your own car in your own neighborhood, or going for a jog, or buying some candy at 7/11, or bird-watching – if you can’t even approach the police without fearing for your life – well, how do you begin to chart your own course?”
Urging graduates to stay hopeful, speak up against injustice, and share their voice with the rest of the world, Obama finished her speech by noting: “Anger is a powerful force. It can be a useful force.
“Left on its own, it will only corrode, and destroy, and sow chaos on the inside and out. But when anger is focused, when it’s channeled into something more, that is the stuff that changes history.”
Beyoncé, continuing this theme in her own commencement speech, said: “You have arrived here in the middle of a global crisis, a racial pandemic, and worldwide expression of outrage at the senseless killing of yet another unarmed Black man, and you still made it.”
The Grammy winner continued: “As a woman, I did not see enough female role models given the opportunity to do what I had to do. To run my label and management company. To direct my films and produce my tours. That meant ownership, owning my masters, owning my art, owning my future and writing my own story.”
Addressing the lack of diversity and inclusion in the music industry, Beyoncé added: “Not enough black women had a seat at the table so I had to go chop down that wood and build my own table.
“Then I had to invite the best there was to have a seat. That meant hiring women, men, outsiders, underdogs, people that were overlooked and waiting to be seen. Many of the best creatives and business people who although supremely qualified and talented were turned down […] because they were female or because of racial disparity.”
She finished on a rousing note, saying: “To all those who feel different… build your own stage and make them see you.
“Your queerness is beautiful, your blackness is beautiful, your compassion, your understanding, your fight for people who may be different from you, is beautiful.”
And Keys, in her own speech, encouraged those students listening to put their education to good use and make the world a better place.
“The world feels broken right now,” she said. “It is broken right now in so many ways, but you’re taking your heartbreak and your outrage and you’re putting it into action and you are showing that your generation is the one that’s gonna heal this. And I promise to always be by your side no matter where the fight for justice takes us next.”
Keys added: “When all of us recognise our biases and find ways to empathise with people that look different than us or seem different than us on the surface, that’s the key right there.
“Empathise with those that seem different on the surface. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being the inspiration, for inspiring the world to see our collective humanity. But right now, at this moment, I hope that you can laugh, smile, allow yourself the time to reflect on all your accomplishments and all that’s coming.”