Wise words to the Class of Covid-19 from Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Malala Yousafzai, Barack Obama, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Megan Rapinoe, Tim Cook, LeBron James and more
When you can’t have all the pomp because of the circumstances, what does a graduation look like? That’s the question countless high schools and colleges across America had to answer this year amid a global pandemic. So teachers, parents, students and administrators came up with an array of creative and meaningful celebrations for the Class of 2020.
In Walhalla, South Carolina, the lampposts on Main Street were adorned with banners featuring the portraits of 257 graduating seniors. For the students at North Salem High School in New York, graduation will be held at a drive-in movie theater next month. And what better way to celebrate how driven the senior class at Speedway High School has been than by crossing the finish line at the nearby Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500.
Adding to all of the celebrations, some of America’s most inspiring politicians, business leaders, actors, athletes, and musicians came forward to offer words of encouragement and support in national commencement speeches to this year’s graduates, streamed in virtual ceremonies, podcasts, social media and on television.
So let the commencement wisdom for the Class of 2020 commence...
Oprah Winfrey(Entertainer, philanthropist)
Can you, the class of 2020, show us not how to put the pieces back together again but how to create a new and more evolved normal, a world more just, kind, beautiful, tender, luminous, creative whole? We need you to do this because the pandemic has illuminated the vast systemic inequities that have defined life for too many for too long.
For poor communities without adequate access to health care, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For immigrant communities forced to hide in the shadows, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For incarcerated people, with no ability to social distance, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For every person burdened by bias and bigotry, for every black man and woman living in their American skin, fearful to even go for a jog, inequality is a pre-existing condition.
You have the power to stand for and fight for and vote for healthier conditions that will create a healthier society. This moment is your invitation to use your education to begin to heal our afflictions, to apply the best of what you’ve learned in your head and felt in your heart.
Bill Gates(Cofounder, Microsoft)
Some of you may have been inspired by this crisis to pursue careers in epidemiology or health. That's fantastic, but it's not the only way to contribute. Policymakers are going to have a lot of decisions to make in the months and years to come about how we recover from this crisis, and how we prevent it from ever happening again. You can use your voice and your vote to insist on policies that create a healthier, better future for everyone everywhere.
The important thing to remember about career paths is that they don't have to last forever, and when I was in my 20s, I thought I'd always worked in software. I never saw myself working in philanthropy or on global health at all, let alone leaving behind my job at Microsoft to do it full-time. As you get older, your interests and your skills will evolve. My advice is to be open to change. Don't be afraid to try something new.
“We had to slow down to receive this amazing gift and blessing called more time. Time was flying, but not anymore. This is what was needed to prepare us for the future. This is prayers answered, but now we learn the hard way that we all are equal.” — Mary J. Blige, musician
Barack Obama (44th President of the United States)
More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing.A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge. If the world is going to get better it’s going to be up to you. With everything suddenly feeling like it’s up for grabs, this is your time to seize the initiative. Nobody can tell you anymore that you should be waiting your turn, nobody can tell you anymore that this is how it’s always been done. More than ever this is your moment, your generation’s world to shape.
You’ve got more role models, more road maps, more resources than the civil rights generation did. You’ve got more tools, technology and talents than my generation did. No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world.
Malala Yousafzai (Activist)
Like all of you, I’m also missing my graduation ceremony this year. And we are not alone. Across the world, Covid-19 has forced more than one billion students out of school. For most of us this is temporary. We’ll continue our education and follow our dreams.
But many girls especially in developing countries will never return to the classroom. Because of this crisis they will be forced into early marriages or low-paying jobs to support their families. When schools reopen their desks will be empty. They are our peers. They have the same right to education as we do.
So, I ask you to remember them today as you go out and change the world. Don’t leave them behind. The class of 2020 won’t be defined by what we lost to this virus but by how we responded to it. The world is yours now and I can’t wait to see what you make of it.
Tim Cook, (CEO, Apple)
When I joined Apple in 1998, I couldn’t believe my luck. I was going to get to spend the rest of my professional life working for Steve Jobs. But fate comes like a thief in the night. The loneliness I felt when we lost Steve was proof that there is nothing more eternal, or more powerful, than the impact we have on others. Those of us who can look back on this time and remember inconveniences and even boredom can count themselves lucky. Many more will know real hardship and fear. Others still will be cut to the bone. And while we turn to our loved ones and friends for comfort, think hard about those whose impact on your life is more distant, but no less meaningful.
Think about an undocumented father, ignored or scorned by his community, who is putting himself at risk in the fields today to feed his family and yours. Think about a single mother, who stocks shelves at night and drives a city bus in the morning, without whom so much would fall apart. Think about the hospital orderly, scrubbing down the ward on hands and knees, whose work today is as solitary and sacred as a high priest purifying a temple. Most of all, think about how you—blessed with a world-class education—might act and work and be differently when all of this is said and done. Memorialize in your heart the way in which these times reveal what really matters: the health and well-being of our loved ones, the resilience of our communities, and the sacrifices made by those—from doctors to garbage collectors—who give their whole selves to serving others.
LeBron James (Athlete)
Class of 2020, I know the last thing you want to hear right now is “stay home.” That’s not my message to you. My message is, stay close to home. Maybe not physically but in every other way possible. Pursue every ambition, go as far as you can possibly dream and be the first generation to embrace a new responsibility, a responsibility to rebuild your community.
Class of 2020, the world has changed. You will determine how we rebuild, and I ask that you make your community your priority. Congratulations class of 2020. I love all of you, and remember one thing. You’re all kings and queens.
Dreams are a great test. Because a dream is going to test your resolve, and you’re going to know a dream from a pipe dream. You’re going to know a dream from a casual brush with something that you got excited about, and then it evaporates. A real dream is something that not only hangs on to you but you will hang onto it. And it will power you through every obstacle that people and your environment will throw against you.
Because if we’re in service of our dreams versus our dreams being in service to us it becomes something greater. It allows us to be game and it allows us to get over our fear to go forward no matter what obstacles are thrown in our path.
Chelsea Handler (Comedian)
Embrace rejection, whether it's from a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a coworker, or a boss. Rejection doesn't feel like something you want to embrace, but rejection is never permanent. Just like success is never permanent, and the sooner, you can embrace rejection, the sooner you get through it. Usually, rejection catapults us all into this ball of despair, and insecure thoughts, and this self-consciousness, and have I ever made any right decisions, and am I fake? Am I even good at my job?
And we have to remember that when we go through those times in our lives, those are thoughts that are happening in our heads. These thoughts are only our thoughts. No one else defines you but you. Your perseverance and your tenacity is what people will remember. It's not that you will fall down because we know everyone falls down, and it is how you get back up, and that you continue to get back up. What other people think of you is never as important as what you think of yourself.
David Chang (Chef)
I want to leave you with the greatest piece of knowledge I've gained so far, an idea we should all remind ourselves in times like these: It's not about you. You're going to be happiest, in my opinion, when you try to be selfless. I hope you're safe. I hope you're proud of your achievements, and I hope you're eager to get to work so that decades from now you can take a look around you and say you left things a little bit better than you found them. Congratulations. Now the hard work begins.
Megan Rapinoe (Athlete)
We’re separated in ways we’ve never experienced and facing a world that will never be the same. So, I’m not going to ask you to come together. I’m going to ask you to demand better together.
For many of you this year will be the first time you’ve cast a ballot.I urge you not to miss the importance of who makes the decisions in times of crisis and in times of triumph. From your local mayor to your governor, your senator, to the President of the United States. Who is leading, matters.
I know first-hand the power of a movement led by and for the next generation. You are that next generation. Take the torch and leave your mark. Put your stake in the ground and build the future that you want and you believe in and fight like hell to do it.
John Legend (Musician)
The reason I'm here, the reason I've had such a wonderful journey in my life thus far is that I found love. Yes, love. We were all made to love and I've found that we live our best lives, we are at our most successful, not simply because we're smarter than everyone else, not because we hustle harder, not because we become millionaires more quickly.
The key to success, the key to happiness is opening your mind and your heart to love, spending your time doing things you love with people you love. I believe that during uncertain and trying times, we must lean on love to show us our clearest path forward and that when you trust what your heart is telling you, love will be your North Star.
Making it is not always an easy thing to do. I was one of those students that was always kind of like just barely making it. I think I took summer school, for gym. But it was nice because I got like a regular workout in. And I made mistakes. Just keep on truckin’, keep on goin’, movin’ to the moon. Do not microwave metal. Not even a tiny spoon.
“Challenge yourself. What is your barometer of success? Don't downgrade your dreams to fit today's halting reality. Don't let the new normal be an excuse for standing in place. It is up to you not to become the class that never was.” — Eli Manning, athlete
Anthony Fauci (Director, NIAID)
I had the good fortune to graduate from Regis high school in 1958. I often say it was the best educational experience I could have imagined. I became immersed in the intellectual rigor of a Jesuit education. Importantly, certain tenets of the Jesuit tradition have sustained me throughout my life and career.
Two of these, precision of thought and economy of expression, inform how I think, how I write and how I communicate with the public every day—especially during the present, unsettling times.
Just as important, however, is the Jesuit emphasis on social justice and service to others. And now is the time, if ever there was one, for us to care selflessly about one another.
Hillary Clinton (Former Secretary of State)
I will leave you with a few pieces of practical advice: Good friends will get you through even the worst times, so stay in touch with them.Always send thank-you notes.Being polite is not the same as being politically correct.So treat others as you want to be treated.Learn how to sew on a button.Check the source of everything you read or share.Vote in every single election, not just the presidential ones.Believe in science, including vaccinations.Wash your hands.
And if all else fails, try meditation or alternate nostril breathing.I did it before three debates with Donald Trump, so trust me, it really is a good technique for dealing with stress.Seriously—Google it.