On June 7th, YouTube had a star-studded graduation ceremony for the class of 2020. The ceremony included Beyoncé, Michelle and Barack Obama, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga and many others who gave powerful speeches.
“You have arrived, here in the middle of a global crisis, a racial pandemic and world-wide expression of outrage at yet another senseless killing of another unarmed Black human being. And you still made it. We’re so proud of you. Thank you for using your collective voice in letting the word know that Black Lives Matter,” Beyoncé began during her inspirational 10-minute speech.
“We’ve seen that our collective hearts, when put to positive action, could start the wheels of change. Real change has started with you, this new generation of high school and college graduates we celebrate today.”
The “Formation” singer called out the sexism and racism in the music industry. Beyoncé shared how she has used her massive platform to not only highlight the beauty of Blackness, but to open doors to more diverse voices and faces.
“The entertainment business is still very sexist, it’s still very male-dominated. And as a woman, I did not see enough female role models given the opportunity to do what I knew 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, my art. Owning my future and writing my own story. 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.”
The music icon added: Real change has started with you. …”
Beyonce went on, “Your queerness is beautiful. Your blackness is beautiful. Your compassion, your understanding, your fight for people who may be different from you is beautiful.”
She also stood in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and anyone else who has been “othered” by society, reminding listeners that the haters are just projecting their own insecurities.
Lady Gaga began with saying that she had written the gradution speech two weeks ago, but she had to rewrite it.
Gaga said there is “much to be sad about, there is much to be celebrated. You are watching what is a pivotal moment in this country’s evolution. You’re watching society change in a deeply important way.”
Gaga broke down in between saying she thinks racism in America is like a forest. “I imagine a broad forest filled densely with tall trees – trees as old as this country itself, trees planted with racist seeds, trees that grew prejudiced branches and oppressive leaves and mangled roots that buried and entrenched themselves deep within the soil forming a web so well developed and so entangled.”
She went on to explain the metaphor and said that “the forest” is where we live and who we are. She invited the graduates to challenge the existing forest of racism.
“I believe in my heart that the people that are going to make this change happen are listening to me speak right now.”
Gaga went on with the metaphor saying the youths are the seeds of the future, for a new and different forest.
The Obamas also offered words of hope and context to what is going on in the world right now. They said they know how the younger generations will move us forward. They first spoke together and later offered thoughtful, in-depth solo speeches.
Michelle Obama 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 send 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 once again so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with.”
She went on to explain the result of decades of unaddressed prejudice and inequality, is happening now. Michelle continued saying that the tough part in nobody having all the answers. She went on to encourage and said, “But that doesn’t mean we should feel hopeless, just the opposite, because what we finally do have is focus… And it’s not just the communities most affected by these challenges that see it now.”
Michelle continued with her message saying that people all across the country looked away all these years. She said,
“We all have no choice but to see what has been staring us in the face for years, for centuries. So the question is, how will we respond?”
Barack echoed Michelle’s message, underscoring the fairer, more just “new normal” the young people can bring forth.
“You don’t have to accept what was considered normal before,” said Obama.
Former President Obama went on to say, “You don’t have to accept the world as it is. You can make it into the world as it should be.”
Rice, the former secretary of state, spoke during the “challenging, sometimes tragic, unprecedented times.”
But she urged the youth to look forward to a brighter future.
“My plea to you: Don’t let anyone you tell you that you can’t be passionate about something because of the color of your skin, or your gender, or circumstances from which you came,” said Rice. “It is your passion, work for it, embrace it, and it will pay dividends in life.”
In addition to the moving words delivered by Beyoncé, the Obamas, Gaga, Keys, Condoleezza Rice and several others, there were performances from Lizzo and her flute. BTS, Maluma, Katy Perry and many more stars performed.
“Star Wars” actors Hamill and Ridley read portions of the classic Dr. Seuss story “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Liza Koshy, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Shawn Mendes also joined in on the congratulations. Other guests teased to join later in the broadcast include Jennifer Lopez, Malala Yousafzai, Missy Elliott, Tom Hanks, BTS, Michael B. Jordan, the cast of “Schitt’s Creek,” Billie Eilish, Katy Perry and John Mulaney.