As fresh college graduates across America step into the working world amid the coronavirus pandemic, Barack Obama has some advice.
Speaking to graduates of historically black colleges and universities on Saturday at a virtual commencement ceremony — hours before another commencement address to high school graduates — the former U.S. president started outlining the various reasons why this class was facing some unique difficulties.
“Graduating from college is a big achievement under any circumstances,” Obama said. “And so many of you overcame a lot to get here. So even if half this semester was spent at Zoom University, you’ve earned this moment. You should be very proud.”
He also noted that “these aren’t normal times” and that these graduates are “being asked to find your way in a world in the middle of a devastating pandemic and a terrible recession. The timing is not ideal.”
Amid the special circumstances, Obama offered “three pieces of advice as you continue on your journey.”
Ground yourself with ‘real people’
Obama’s first piece of advice for graduates was that they “ground” themselves “in actual communities with real people” and fight for issues passionately.
“Don’t just activate yourself online,” Obama stressed. “Change requires strategy, action, organizing, marching, and voting in the real world like never before …
No one is better positioned than this class of graduates to take that activism to the next level. And from tackling health disparities to fighting for criminal justice and voting rights, so many of you are already doing this.”
Obama also said that it wasn’t going to be a one-person mission — and encouraged graduates to find like-minded people to pursue the same cases.
“You can’t do it alone,” he said. “Meaningful change requires allies in common cause.”
Instead of saying “What’s in it for me? … or my community,” Obama encouraged graduates to “stand up for and join up with everyone else who’s struggling” — from immigrants, refugees, low-income workers, the LGBT community, and whoever else is in need.
“And on the big unfinished goals in this country, like economic and environmental justice and health care for everybody, broad majorities agree on the ends,” he added. “That’s why folks with power will keep trying to divide you over the means. That’s how nothing changes. You get a system that looks out for the rich and powerful and nobody else.”
Graduates should then aspire to “expand your moral imaginations, build bridges, and grow your allies in the process of bringing about a better world,” he said.
Be a role model
The former president ended with a note to the graduates to always remember act as role model.
“You have to remember that you are inheritors of one of America’s proudest traditions,” Obama said. “Which means you’re all role models now — whether you like it or not. Your participation in this democracy, your courage to stand up for what’s right, your willingness to forge coalitions — these actions will speak volumes. And if you are inactive, that will also speak volumes …
Not just to the young folks coming up behind you — but to your parents, your peers, and the rest of the country. They need to see your leadership — you’re the folks we’ve been waiting for to come along.”
Because “that’s the power you hold,” Obama added. “The power to shine brightly for justice, and for equality, and for joy.”
Obama will make a third online commencement address on June 6 at 3PM ET to the class of 2020.
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance.