LOS ANGELES (AP) – President Barack Obama said in a commencement speech Sunday that the nationwide protests following the recent deaths of unarmed black women and men including George Floyd were fueled from â€œdecades worth of anguish, frustration, over unequal treatment and a failure to perform police practices.â€
Obama along with his wife, Michelle, delivered speeches during YouTubeâ€™s â€œDear Class of 2020â€ virtual ceremony. The duo, along with a wide-ranging, star-studded lineup including BeyoncÃ©, Lady Gaga and Tom Brady, offered inspirational messages in hopes of uplifting new graduates.
The former president told graduates that the coronavirus shined a light on a plethora of Americaâ€™s ongoing issues.
â€œIn a lot of ways, the pandemic just brought into focus problems that have been growing for a very long time,â€ he continued. â€œWhether itâ€™s widening economic inequality, the lack of basic health care for millions of people, the continuing scourge of bigotry and sexism, or the division or dysfunction that plagued our political system.â€
Obama added: â€œAs scary and uncertain these times may be, they are also a wake-up call. And theyâ€™re an incredible opportunity for your generation.â€
Michelle Obama said the ongoing protests following Floydâ€™s death are a â€œdirect result of decades of unaddressed, prejudice and inequality.â€ She said she understands those who are â€œscared or confused or angry, or just plain overwhelmedâ€ with the events the past few months.
â€œOver these past couple of months, our foundation has been shaken,â€ she said. â€œNot just by a pandemic that stole too many of our loved ones, upended our daily lives and sent 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 now once again so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with.â€
BeyoncÃ© delivered a stirring 10-minute speech to graduates. She spoke about the recent protests as well as shared her secrets to success and the importance of ownership.
â€œYou are achieving things your parents and grandparents never could imagine for themselves,â€ she said. â€œYou are the answer to a generation of prayers.â€
BeyoncÃ© advised graduates to believe in themselves as she did when the singer started her own company a decade ago. She said creating her own lane was challenging in an entertainment business that is still â€œvery sexistâ€ and â€œmale-dominated.â€ The singer also said the protests have already made an impact.
â€œLook what youâ€™ve been able to do in the last 14 days,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™ve seen the power of the collective. Weâ€™ve seen what happens when we join for the same cause. Please, continue to be the voice for the voiceless.â€
The four-hour ceremony was filmed over the last several weeks, but Lady Gaga decided to re-record her message. Her initial speech touched on the effect COVID-19 had on this yearâ€™s graduating class, but she wanted to speak more on the Floydâ€™s death, the Black Lives Matter movement and racism in America.
â€œWhile my original commencement speech may not be directly relevant to what this country needs most right now, I wish to tell you today that though there is much to be sad about, there is also much to celebrated,â€ she said. â€œYou are watching what is a pivotal moment in this country’s evolution. … Change will happen, and it will be for the better.â€
Taylor Swift said her high school graduation wasnâ€™t what she expected. The singer told a story about how she was on tour and unable to go to her own ceremony.
â€œI know this isnâ€™t the kind of graduation you thought you were going to be having,â€ she said. â€œI ended up getting mailed my diploma. … It wasnâ€™t exactly what I had pictured.â€
Lizzo began the ceremony with a rousing performance. While wielding her flute, the â€œTruth Hurtsâ€ singer performed the classic â€œPomp and Circumstanceâ€ before she congratulated graduates as the New York Philharmonic accompanied her.
Several music artists from Cynthia Erivo, Camila Cabello, Coldplayâ€™s Chris Martin, Ty Dolla $ign, Khalid and others collaborated to sing a rendition of U2â€™s â€œBeautiful Day.â€ Katy Perry led graduates in the ceremonial tassel turn at the end of the commencement celebration.