Former President Barack Obama and wife Michelle Obama on Sunday urged 2020 high school graduates to use these turbulent times as a springboard to a more meaningful life.
The former first lady commiserated with teens shaken by the coronavirus pandemic and the police killing of George Floyd that has ignited a reckoning on centuries-old injustice.
“Perhaps you’re wishing that things could just go back to the way they were,” she said in a celebrity-packed YouTube ceremony for students whose commencement ceremonies were canceled because of the outbreak.
She said she experienced similar feelings “most profoundly when my father and my best friend died within a year of each other. I was in my late 20s. It felt like my whole world was collapsing in on itself. I would have given anything ― anything ― to bring them back. But that experience gave me a kind of clarity.
“With everything in pieces around me I had to forge a new path, a path fortunately more focused on meaning and service. So, graduates, I hope that what you’re going through right now, can be your wakeup call. That it pushes you not just to think about what kind of career you want to build, but what kind of person do you want to be.”
Her husband exhorted graduates to understand that business as usual no longer applied.
“These shocks to the system that we’re seeing right now, just as you prepare to go out into the world — they remind us that we can’t take things for granted,” he said. “We have to work to make things better. They remind us that our individual well-being depends on the well-being of the community that we live in. And it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick.
“It reminds you that our country and our democracy only function when we think not just about ourselves but also about each other… So as scary and uncertain as these times may be, they are also a wakeup call… You don’t have to accept what was considered normal before, you don’t have to accept the world as it is. You can make it into the world as it should be and could be.”
Watch the Obamas’ full comments here:
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