The high school class of 2020 was honored in a televised celebration Saturday night hosted by the education advocacy group XQ Institute, the LeBron James Family Foundation, and the Entertainment Industry Foundation.
The evening featured a number of celebrity guests, including commencement speaker Barack Obama, plus high school seniors from around the country with messages of hope amid a global pandemic that has upended many end-of-year rites of passage including prom, senior night, graduation, “and let’s face it, a whole bunch of parties,” Obama said during the commencement segment of the hour-long event.
Here are some highlights from the virtual celebration that aired on ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC.
LeBron James challenged students to recommit themselves to their communities
Dressed in a grey jacket, James took on the role of the host during the televised address, which was co-presented by the NBA star’s education foundation.
Throughout the show, James encouraged the class of 2020 to strive for greatness, chase dreams, and recommit themselves to their communities. He challenged graduating students not to forget their safety nets — their teachers, coaches, pastors, friends, and families who helped them get to where they are. And while reminding students that “building your community changes the world,” he empathized with the fact that the last thing seniors probably want to hear right now is “stay home.”
“That’s not my message to you,” James said. “My message is stay close to home. Maybe not physically, but in every other way possible.”
“Class of 2020,” he concluded, “The world has changed. You determine how we rebuild, and I ask that you make your community a priority.”
Musical performances by Dua Lipa, the Platt Brothers, Alicia Keys, H.E.R., the Jonas Brothers, and others
The special featured performances from celebrities and students alike, threaded throughout the event. Dua Lipa performed “Break My Heart," the Platt Brothers performed a graduation medley, Alicia Keys sang “Underdog," and the Jonas Brothers, featuring Karol G, closed the event with a new song “X.”
A link to the full #PlattBrothers Graduation Medley. We’re so proud to have been part of this beautiful program honoring the #ClassOf2020 & their teachers. Definitely the most meaningful medley I’ve ever arranged! #GraduateTogether @BenSPLATT @GradTogether https://t.co/uCD62T7OME— Jonah Platt (@JonahPlatt) May 17, 2020
High school seniors also formed a virtual orchestra to sing the national anthem.
Malala Yousafzai says graduates aren’t defined by loss
Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai said Saturday that she was also missing her graduation like the class of 2020.
"We're not alone," she said.
Yousafzai also called on graduates to remember girls around the world who “may never return to the classroom because of this crisis ... 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," Yousafzai said. “The world is yours now. And I can’t wait to see what you make of it.”
Obama offers three pieces of advice for graduating seniors
In the headlining moment of the event, President Barack Obama gave the high school class of 2020 a commencement speech where, among other takeaways, the former president honed in on three pieces of advice.
“Don’t be afraid," he began, reminding seniors that America has gone through tough times before in slavery, civil war, famine, disease, the Great Depression, and 9/11. “Each time, we came out stronger ... We learn from past mistakes, and figure out how to make things better."
Secondly, Obama told the graduating class to do what they think is right.
“Not doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy,” Obama continued. “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 told seniors to ground themselves in values that last including honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, and respect for others.
And lastly, echoing James’ earlier sentiments, Obama told seniors to build a community.
“No one does big things by themselves,” he said. “If we’re going to create a world where everyone can find a job and go to college, if we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re going to have to do it together.”
Watch the full special: