Obama hosts Virtual Graduation for Class of 2020


Former President, Barack Obama, presenting a commencement speech to the Class of 2020

Marin Creamer, Staff Writer

On Saturday, May 16, the Obamas hosted “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020” to celebrate the seniors who lost their final moments in high school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The multimedia event included an intro by Zendaya, clips of celebrities including Timothee Chalamet, Malala Yousafzai, Lebron James, and performances by Alicia Keys, and H.E.R. All the events led up to a final commencement address by former president, Barack Obama. Although the many celebrities involved added to the overall attraction of the event, the messages projected and the thought put into the celebration impacted many students.

Among the important topics brought up throughout “Graduate Together,” Obama addressed the importance of community. “Build a community,” he said, “No one does big things by themselves… be alive for one’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us: sexism, racial prejudice, status and greed, and set the world on a different path.” He emphasized the importance—now more than ever—to establish a community and move past the deep rooted divisions instilled in society. 

Connecting Obama’s message to the environment at Latin, senior Maddie Koo says, “One of the things I love about Latin is the strong and close knit community we have, but sometimes I even get lost in it and forget those around us, so this is a special way to be a part of something bigger.” She feels like the address sparked connections between seniors across the country, pulling them closer in their common struggle. 

Abby Slimmon, a senior at Lab, reiterates Maddie and Obama’s message. “I think the ceremony was a good reminder that not only are we not alone, but just because we can’t physically be together doesn’t mean we can’t be there for each other,” she says. She understands the importance of feeling a sense of community despite separation. “It was cool knowing that kids my age all over the country were watching it with me,” she adds. 

Activist Malala Yousafzai added on during the event, saying, “Many girls in developing countries will never return to school.” While the loss of the last quarter of high school remains impactful, she recognized those who won’t proceed to at least four years of college in the coming years and that education isn’t a given for everyone. 

With that in mind, the speakers also said they understand the frustration that comes along with losing your final moments of high school. 

Abby says, “I don’t think there’s any way we could make up for the fact that we will never be able to experience a real high school graduation or prom. I think events like ‘Graduate Together’ definitely make a difference though because it’s a reminder that we aren’t going through this alone and we have the right to feel upset.”

Senior Emma Beier brought up Lori Lightfoot’s citywide graduation plans—which she announced on April 30 with a TikTok—too, saying, “I appreciate the lengths so many people, including Lori Lightfoot, are going to in order to make this time special for seniors, and while I think the spirit of graduation will be felt during these virtual events, I know it’s not going to be the same as being there in person with my classmates.”

Maya Edwards, another Latin senior, agrees. “Everyone has a lot to worry about right now, but the fact that leaders are still keeping our class in mind is super heartwarming,” she says, “I do think a lot of the sentiment is lost when graduating virtually. I anticipate that it will feel less important going through the ceremony and getting my diploma through a computer.” Clearly, both the efforts made by the Obamas and Mayor Lori Lightfoot bring seniors together, but they can’t incite the same energy created in a live event. 

Meanwhile, Obama assured students that the hype surrounding graduation passes. He joked,  “Not many people look great in those caps, especially people with big ears like me.” On a more serious note, he said, “The disappointment of missing a live graduation, that will pass pretty quickly” while also mentioning the major milestone graduation marks: “It’s when you get to decide what is important to you.”

With more responsibility thrust into the hands of seniors, Mr. Obama said, “Our society and our democracy only work when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other… With so much uncertainty, with everything up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape.