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Barack Obama’s Class of 2020 graduation speech encourages students, criticizes leadership

In less than eight minutes, former President Barack Obama addressed graduating seniors across America who haven’t been able to attend their own graduation ceremonies.

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Obama acknowledged the unprecedented shift in daily life and operations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the uncertainty and intimidation some may be feeling about the future.

The unique circumstances, he said, will force this group to “grow up faster than some generations."

Obama encouraged students to remain resilient and optimistic, challenging young adults to activate the changes they want to see in their communities.

His message was also political.

“This pandemic has shaken up the status quo and laid bare a lot of our country’s deep-seeded problems. From massive economy equality to ongoing racial disparities to a lack of basic health care for people who need it," he said. "Our society and our democracy only work when we think, not just about ourselves, but about each other.”

In a dig to the current administration, Obama seemed to criticize President Donald Trump’s decision making.

“Doing what feels good -- what’s convenient, what’s easy -- that’s how little kids think. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs still think that way, which is why things are so screwed up,” Obama said.

He also insinuated Trump’s leadership has been divisive.

“Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us: sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed,” he said. “Set the world on a different path.”

Obama encouraged specific values, including honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity and respect for others.

The former president charged young people with three calls to action:

Don’t be afraid. Learn from past mistakes and figure out how to make things better.

Do what you think is right. Ground yourself in values that last, and honor what you believe to be true even when it’s hard and inconvenient.

Build a community. Be attuned to others’ struggles and stand up for people’s rights.

“If the world is going to get better, it’s going to be up to you,” he said. “This is your generation’s world to shape.”

Trump posted a short message on Twitter hours before Obama posted the full message on the social media platform.

He later wrote, “The Obama Administration is turning out to be one of the most corrupt and incompetent in U.S. history.”


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