Barack and Michelle Obama’s commencement speech: ‘Do what you think is right’


Several ceremonies took place over the weekend trying to emulate ceremonies for the high school classes of 2020. Seniors everywhere had their big day cancelled due to COVID-19 and people tried to find a way to celebrate. A large collection of celebrities, athletes, and notables joined together for YouTube’s Dear Class of 2020, a virtual commencement and celebration. Among the recorded speeches were former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama who recorded a three-minute joint message along with full length individual addresses. Their words were inspirational and congratulatory, but not devoid of recognizing the uprising currently happening in the streets of our country. What the Obamas told the graduates was that even as uncertain as things are presently, they’re not hopeless, because we are working toward a common, just goal.

Barack and Michelle Obama appeared Sunday on YouTube’s “Dear Class of 2020” special to address high school and college students now graduating into a country “upended” by a deadly pandemic and “swept by protest.”

The former president and first lady had the same message: They, too, have been grappling with anguish and uncertainty and loss. “But that doesn’t mean we should feel hopeless,” Mrs. Obama said in her commencement address after a joint video message from her and her husband.

“As someone once said: Hope is not a lottery ticket. It’s a hammer for us to use in a national emergency — to break the glass, sound the alarm and sprint into action,” President Obama, 58, said in his own speech.

“As scary and uncertain as these times may be, they are also a wake-up call,” he said, “and they are an incredible opportunity for your generation.”

“I hope that what you’re going through right now can be your wake-up call,” the former first lady, 56, also told graduating students.

“In light of the current state of our country, I struggled to find the right words of wisdom for you today,” Mrs. Obama said. “So, I am here today to talk to you not as the former first lady, but as a real live person: a mother, a mentor, a citizen concerned about your future and the future of our country.”

“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 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,” the former first lady said.

“The question is,” she said, “how will we respond?”

Both she and President Obama had three lessons to share.

“First,” he told graduates, “do what you think is right, not just what’s convenient or what’s expected or what’s easy.”

“In an uncertain world,” however, “time-tested values like honesty and integrity, empathy and compassion: That’s the only real currency in life,” the former first lady said. “Treating people right will never, ever fail you.”

That was her second lesson, while former President Obama said, “Listen to each other, respect each other, and use all that critical thinking you’ve developed from your education to help promote the truth.”

“Finally, even if it all seems broken, have faith in our democracy,” he said. “Participate — and vote.”

In her speech, his wife said: “Anger is a powerful force. It can be a useful force. … But when anger is focused, when it’s channeled into something more — that is the stuff that changes history.”

[From People]

I’ve posted all three videos below so you can listen to the Obamas remarks in their entirety. The question Michelle asked, “how will we respond” has been weighing on my mind of late. The country has a history of getting worked up in the moment but abandoning a cause once the fervor dies down. Which is why the Obamas’ use of “wake-up call” is apt. Most of us wake up to an alarm every day. We know it’s there even when we wish it wasn’t. But it is, and we have to address it once it goes off. We all knew systemic racism was pervasive throughout the US and we make some noise about it when incidents happen, but too many hit the snooze button immediately after things die down. People are rightfully angry, as the Obamas pointed out. And that anger, when focused, can be a very powerful tool. What’s critical going forward is to remember this moment, even when things are calmer, and the headlines have found something else to blare. Keep focus, keep fighting. We all must be in it for the long haul from here on out. As Barack said in his address, “I’ll admit that it’s a little unfair to lay such a heavy burden on you. I wish that my generation had done more to solve some of our country’s big problems.” I agree, I wish I had done much more before today. So I need to devote my time to giving the next generation whatever support they need to make the changes we didn’t.


Photo credit: WENN/Avalon and YouTube

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13 Responses to “Barack and Michelle Obama’s commencement speech: ‘Do what you think is right’”

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  1. Lightpurple says:

    Remember when we had a President and First Lady who embodied decency, compassion, and a desire to help improve the world we all live in for all of us?

  2. Cate says:

    I miss them so much it’s physically painful.

    • fifee says:

      You know, even though he was not my president (I’ve been contending with David Cameron, Theresa May, and now Bojo the Clown) I get exactly what you mean. I had a wee cry watching this, longing for the days when a decent man was at the helm.

    • Jo73c says:

      Same here. They are all class.

  3. Ms. Lib says:

    Pure class!

  4. ira says:

    Why Meghan and Harry are not on the list of people invited by The Obamas?

    I mean after racism they experience from the BRF and part of British public, they should be the one invited instead of BTS or Katy Perry.

    Cancel Barrack and Michele! They are not friends of the Sussex! Remember Michele even mentioned they are friends with PW and Kate Middleton.

    • Ai says:

      We don’t know if Meghan and Harry were invited or not or maybe they chose to not participate. Also, I am gonna disagree with you there re BTS. Their speech and performance were both thoughtful and incredible. Also FYI, BTS and their fans have also supported the BLM and donated over $2 million USD too. They are using their global platform for good.

    • AMM says:

      These were originally planned when it was just the pandemic. After the last two weeks or so, a lot of people who participated re-filmed their videos to talk about current situations. Some celebs didn’t know they could re-submit, or didn’t want to, so some have nothing to do with the current situation. These weren’t intended to be about the protests, so it makes sense that Meghan and Harry wouldn’t be involved.

      There was a disclaimer on the channel that explaining that this project started before the protests.

    • anon says:


  5. ib says:

    Sobbing watching this. I miss them so much

  6. Case says:

    Their speeches were SO moving. Wonderful, kind people who seem to always know just what to say. And on top of that, they’re such a cute couple and a total joy to watch together.

    The celebrity aspect of Dear Class of 2020 didn’t mean much to me as I’m not a graduate, but the Obamas’ words were timeless and so needed.

  7. MakeMice 1976 says:

    I’m so tired of hearing from this guy. He has done more to test this country apart than most people realize. The way he treated our police, his world apology tour, the way he used OUR government to spy on the republican presidential candidate, his hand in the phony Russia dossier, his handling of Benghazi, & I could go on. Either Democrat voters aren’t very smart or they have chosen not to see the obvious bias of the media. I think it was Goebbles who said if you can control the media then you can control the people. If he didn’t say it he most certainly lived by it. To be very clear I am not calling anyone a Nazi, I’m only pointing out similarities. 🤣 Seriously, that’s a cheap shot & we shouldn’t call each other Nazis because I think the more you throw that word around it starts to nomalize it. It’s like when people say everything is racist. If everything is racist then nothing is racist. Off track, sorry. Lol.