9 most powerful moments from the Class of 2020's virtual commencement speeches

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Earlier in April 2020, a high school senior tweeted at Barack Obama asking him to consider delivering a virtual commencement speech for the graduating class of 2020, with the hashtag #ObamaCommencement2020. As more graduating netizens bandwagoned onto the trend, Obama ended up giving us, not one, but three commencement speeches. From Facebook and Instagram’s #Graduation2020 featuring a speech by Oprah Winfrey and a performance by Miley Cyrus, to Youtube’s most recent “Dear Class of 2020” bringing us messages from the Obamas, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and more, the class of 2020 has seen entire nations coming together virtually to celebrate their journey. While nothing compares to the tossing of caps in unison with your peers, the camaraderie and spirit of these jubilant digital iterations is noteworthy, to say the least.

If you’ve listened to David Foster Wallace’s ‘This is Water’ or Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address, you’ll know that words have immense power to affect and inspire. We scouted the virtual commencement ceremonies of the Class of 2020, to bring you the nine most moving moments. Whether you’re watching from your couch or bed, sit up—you’re going to want to pay attention.

Oprah Winfrey at #Graduation2020 by Facebook and Instagram

“It’s vital that you learn and we all learn to be at peace with the discomfort of stepping into the unknown. It’s really okay to not have all the answers. The answers will come for sure, if you can accept not knowing long enough to get still and stay still long enough for new thoughts to take root in your more quiet, deeper truer self."

Barack Obama at Lebron James's commencement event “Graduate Together: America Honors the Class of 2020”

“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. I hope that instead you decide to ground yourself in values that last—like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others.” 

Anna Wintour for Teen Vogue's commencement event

“What do we stand for? What is our way of doing good in the world? How can we make positive change? These are the most important questions one can ask, no matter your profession and they’re not easy questions to answer. But coming up with these answers is one way to ensure whatever you create, even if it is TikTok video, has a sense of purpose, even a feeling of permanence.”

Sundar Pichai, Beyoncé, and Michelle Obama at Youtube's “Dear Class Of 2020”

"Over these many years, I’ve seen exactly who you are. I’ve seen your creativity, and your talent, and your resourcefulness. I’ve seen you speaking out to end gun violence and fight climate change. I’ve seen you gathering donations for those in need during this pandemic. I’ve seen you marching with peace and with purpose. And that is why, even in tough times like these, you continue to be what gives me hope.”

“Not enough black women had a seat at the table, so I had to go and 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 over and over as executives of major corporations because they were female, or because of racial disparity, and I’ve been very proud to provide them with a place at my table.”

“There’s an interesting trend I’ve noticed: It’s very conventional for every generation to underestimate the potential of the following one. It’s because they don’t realise that the progress of one generation becomes the foundational premise for the next. And it takes a new set of people to come along and realise all the possibilities.”

“The Class of 2020 India” with Alia Bhatt, Ananya Pandey, Karan Johar and more

“There will be an amazing party that awaits you. A party where you will find your space, find your place in life and celebrate the rest of your existence.” 

Tom Hanks for Wright State University 

“Part of your lives will forever be identified as before in the same way other generations tell time like ‘well that was before the war’ or ‘that was before the internet’ or ‘that was before Beyoncé’. The word before is going to carry great weight with you…but your after is not going to look the same as your during or as your before. You will have seen the movie and you will know how it ends. You will have made it through the time of great sacrifice and great need and no one will be more fresh to the task of restarting our measure of normalcy than you. You chosen ones.” 

Ryan Reynolds for Kitsilano Secondary School 

“Practice empathy. Empathy has got me so much more, so much farther in not only my life, but my career. Mirroring, empathising, validating someone else’s experience or point of view is just about the most radical act of ambition that you can ever demonstrate. To my surprise, this had made me money, friends, priceless memories. It allowed me to fully accept and provide love. It’s helped me recognise mistakes that I’ve made and learn from them, and above all, it’s made me happy.”

Also read:

6 students share what it feels like to graduate in a pandemic

Shweta Bachchan Nanda hosted the sweetest DIY graduation for Navya Naveli Nanda in Jalsa's backyard

All the celebrities who are donating to support those affected by COVID-19

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