The Chicago native and politician participated in theGraduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 virtual event on Saturday, sharing some words of wisdom to graduating seniors across the nation.
"Graduating is a big achievement under any circumstances. Some of you've had to overcome serious obstacles along the way, whether it was an illness or a parent losing a job or living in a neighborhood where people too often count you out," Obama began. "Then, just as you're about to celebrate having made it through, just as you've been looking forward to proms, senior nights and graduation ceremony, and let's face it, a whole bunch of parties, the world is turned upside down by a global pandemic."
"Now, I'll be honest with you. The disappointments of missing a live graduation, those will pass pretty quick. I don't remember much of my own high school graduation. I know that not having to sit there and listen to a commencement speaker isn't all that bad. Mine usually go on way too long. Also, not that many people look great in those caps -- especially if you have big ears like me," he joked. "And you'll have plenty of time to catch up with your friends once the immediate public health crisis is over."
"But what remains true is that your graduation marks your passage into adulthood," he continued. "The time when you began to take charge of your own life. It's when you get to decide what's important to you, the kind of career you want to pursue, who you want to build a family with, the values you want to live by -- and given the current state of the world, that might be scary. But I hope it's also inspiring."
Obama continued by adding that with all the challenges the country faces right now, no one can tell you that you don't understand or this is how it's always been done. "Because with so much uncertainty, when everything suddenly up for grabs, this is your generation's world to shape."
The politician ended with three important pieces of advice.
"First, 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, usually because a new generation -- young people like you -- learn from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better," he began. "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 grownups -- including some with fancy titles and important jobs -- still think that way, which is why things are so screwed up. I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last. Like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others. You won't get it right every time, you'll make mistakes like we all do. But if you listen to the truth that's inside yourself -- even when it's hard, even when it's inconvenient -- people will notice. They'll gravitate towards you, and you'll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem."
"And finally, build a community. No one does big things by themselves. 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're gonna get through these difficult times, if we're gonna create a world where everybody has opportunities to find a job and afford college, if we're gonna save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we're gonna have to do it together," Obama said. "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. Congratulations, class of 2020. Keep making us proud."
Put on by the LeBron James Family Foundation in conjunction with the XQ Institute and the Entertainment Industry Foundation Partner, Graduate Together gave students a proper send-off after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the school year. The Jonas Brothers, Bad Bunny, H.E.R, Pharrell Williams, Kane Brown, Lana Condor, David Dobrik and many more also participated in the hour-long event that also included student speeches and special shout-outs to teachers.