Here’s what the Obamas, Beyoncé and the cast of Schitt’s Creek had to say.
With the world on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, students graduating this year were denied an IRL commencement ceremony. But they got a pretty special virtual one. Led by Barack and Michelle Obama, students got a day-long celebration livestreamed on YouTube, titled Dear Class of 2020 . In addition to speeches and messages from the Obamas, Beyoncé, the cast of Schitt’s Creek, Lady Gaga, Shawn Mendes, Malala Yousafzai, Billy Porter and Seth Rogen, graduates also got special performances from BTS, Chloe x Halle, Lizzo and the New York Philharmonic, and Katy Perry. Catch some of the highlights below.
Barack and Michelle Obama
President and Mrs Obama, looking absolutely thrilled to be celebrating the Class of 2020, gave a short joint message to the new graduates tuning in. “Today is the culmination of a long journey,” said the President. “Think back to when you were starting your first year. You were probably just hoping by graduation day, you’d met some new people, learned some new skills and got yourself ready for the first step, maybe college, maybe grad school, maybe your first job. You accomplished all that. And just as you were rounding the final turn, the world through a pandemic your way.”
“And these past few months, you had to reach even higher,” added Michelle Obama. “You weren’t just adjusting to a virtual classroom, you were helping your teachers adjust their audio so the rest of the class could hear. You weren’t just taking your finals online, you were making sure your siblings had enough time on the computer too to finish their work. And you weren’t just hanging out with your friends in your group chat, you were supporting them through all of this uncertainty and loss.”
“That’s a lot to ask of anybody, and I spite of it all, you did it all,” said Barack Obama.
The couple also gave individual speeches, which can be found here and here.
Beyoncé began her 10-minute speech by congratulating the Class of 2020 and thanking them for “using [their] collective voice and letting the world know that Black lives matter.” She also spoke about the sexism and racism rampant in the music and entertainment industries, and how she knew that instead of trying to get a seat at that table she needed to build her own, encouraging young graduates to do the same.
“To all those who feel different, if you’re part of a group that’s called ‘other,’ a group that does not get the chance to be centre stage, build your own stage and make them see you. Your queerness is beautiful, your blackness is beautiful. Your compassion, your understanding, your fight for people who may be different from you, is beautiful. I hope you continue to go into the world and show them that you will never stop being yourself. That it’s your time now. Make them see you.”
The cast of Schitt’s Creek
We may have said goodbye to the Roses last month, but Johnny, Moira, David and Alexis decided to return to our screens with one last message. Dan and Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy reprised their iconic roles for a brief video message recorded two weeks ago in praise and celebration of the teachers—or as Moira calls them, preceptors—who helped bring their graduating students over the finish line. And of course they invited some of their nearest and dearest to help them “express their indebtedness”: Patrick, Stevie, Ronnie, Jocelyn, Twyla and Ray. Patrick and the Jazzagals led the group in an a cappella rendition of Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” which culminated with a surprise appearance from the Queen of Pop herself.
Lady Gaga initially had a different speech planned, written two weeks before Black Lives Matter protests swept the country following the murder of George Floyd. In her newly written seven-minute speech, she says, “While my original commencement speech may not be directly relevant to what this country needs most right now, I wish to tell you today that although there is much to be sad about, there is also 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.” She went on to provide an analogy between racism and nature, and how racist seeds planted hundreds of years ago grew to produce “prejudices branches and oppressive leaves and mangled roots.” She chose this analogy, she says, because racism is “as pervasive and as real” as nature.
The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) College of Performing Arts Choir and Diamond Bar High School marching band came together for a performance of Shawn Mendes’ hit song “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back.” Performed out in a football field, the pre-taped performance also featured footage of students in face masks dancing in school hallways. At the end of the song, Mendes appeared with a quick message for the Class of 2020: “I hope that wherever your post-graduation life takes you, you continue to stay inspired. To the entire class of 2020 graduating, congratulations to you. You should be so proud of yourself, take care of yourself, and do what you love to do in life.”
K-pop sensation BTS also delivered a moving speech to young graduates, with each of the members sharing a personal story, either memories of their own graduation ceremonies, or their fears and worries about the global pandemic we’re all living through. “Today, we might not have flowers and we might not have graduation caps. What we do have is possibly the most special graduation ceremony in history,” said RM. “Never before have so many gathered to celebrate a graduating class for their achievements and their dreams. You can be watching us from your bed, from your living room, alone, or with somebody. Wherever you are, you will all soon be breaking out of one world and soar into another.”
The band closed out Dear Class of 2020 with a performance of some of their greatest hits, including “Boy with Luv” and “Spring Day,” which you can watch here.
And for the full 4.5 hour-long ceremony, watch below.