,In the Issue
In speech after speech, 2020 graduates are being encouraged and celebrated in unprecedented fashion from outdoor celebrations like the one hosted at the Louisiana Leadership Institute to virtual commencement speeches by national leaders and celebrities like former President Barack Obama and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Every speech uniquely resonates a message of resilience and challenge for grads to improve the world especially in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic.
To the graduating seniors of East Baton Rouge Parish, State Senator Cleo Fields said, “When we see you, we see great things and we see success.” On May 19, Fields and the LLI board organized a parish-wide graduation celebration, recognizing top grads with awards from area sponsors. “If it’s any class that deserves recognition, it’s this class,” he said.
Micah Jones, LLI student president and 2020 graduate of McKinley High School, echoed that sentiment in this speech during the ceremony:
Louisiana Leadership Institute president Micah Jones’ speech:
“We, the class of 2020, started our freshmen year in the midst of chaos—the Flood of 2016—and now we are ending our senior year in the midst of a pandemic—COVID-19. This is truly an indication that we are a class of very resilient individuals for despite the sufferings and situations we have faced in our lifetime, we will conquer with God on our side.
Micah Jones, a graduating senior and drum major at McKinley Senior High School, serves as president of the Louisiana Leadership Institute in Baton Rouge. On May 19, 2020, he gave a commencement speech to graduating seniors from across the parish. Photo provided.
We thank our parents, teachers, and all individuals who have influenced and nurtured us as we begin our new tomorrow in our new abnormal world,” Jones said.
“Some of us will go to college, some to the military, others straight into the workforce. No matter where we go or what we do, there are definitely challenges awaiting us. What I ask of my fellow graduates, and of myself, is to meet those challenges straight on with your head held high and your heart wide open. It’s not enough to simply try to get by in life; that doesn’t move the world forward. You must try to excel in everything you do. Strive for excellence in every task, whether large or small.”
“Although it may not be easy to see, but every accomplishment you achieve is added to the world’s accomplishments. Your individual successes benefit society as a whole because when you succeed, you lighten the burden on your fellow man. When you succeed, you are in a position to give rather than take My challenge to each of you and to myself, is to do all you can do to reach your fullest potential.”
“If you ever find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come, how far we have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the obstacles you have won, and all the fears you have overcome.”
“In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do’,” Jones said.
“So wherever this life leads you, aim for the stars and remember, we are more than survivors, we are conquerors and nothing–absolutely nothing–can stop us from accomplishing any goal we hope to achieve!”
Days later, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts encouraged graduating seniors at Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut, to make their way with humility, compassion, and courage in a world turned upside down. “This is your moment, your time to begin leaving your mark on the world,” he said.
In a video message, Roberts said that the coronavirus has “pierced our illusion of certainty and control…Humility. The pandemic should teach us at least that.” Roberts told graduates to show compassion. “Others are suffering, too, and many will be for a long time. Those who have lost jobs or small businesses or whose hopes and dreams may be slowly drifting out of reach,” he said. Roberts said people they encounter years from now “may bear scars you cannot see.” He also told them they will need courage in this uncertain time.
Similarly, NBA star LeBron James joined other celebrities during the “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020” broadcast on May 16.
To the classes of graduates, James said, “do not forget your safety net. Every teacher, every coach, every pastor. They along with your friends and family got you to this moment, and now it is time to go to a new place. It is time to chase every dream, accept every challenge, strive for greatness, honor every promise, and recommit to your community.”
“Stay close to home, maybe not physically but in every other way possible.” James encouraged them to “pursue every ambition go as far as you can possibly dream. 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 will rebuild and I ask that you make your community your priority.” Then, former President Barack Obama spoke.
Former President Barack Obama’s ‘Graduate Together’ speech
“I couldn’t be prouder of all of you in the graduating Class of 2020 — as well as the teachers, and the coaches, and most of all, parents and family who guided have you along the way.
Now graduating is a big achievement under any circumstances. Some of you have had to overcome serious obstacles along the way, whether it was an illness, or a parent losing a job, or living in a neighborhood where people too often count you out. Along with the usual challenges of growing up, all of you have had to deal with the added pressures of social media, reports of school shootings, and the specter of climate change. And then, just as you’re about to celebrate having made it through, just as you’ve been looking forward to proms and senior nights, graduation ceremonies — and, let’s face it, a whole bunch of parties — the world is turned upside down by a global pandemic. And as much as I’m sure
You love your parents, I’ll bet that being stuck at home with them and playing board games or watching “Tiger King” on tv is not exactly how you envisioned the last few months of your senior year.
Now I’ll be honest with you — the disappointments of missing a live graduation — those will pass pretty quick. I don’t remember much from my own high school graduation. I know that not having to sit there and listen to a commencement speaker isn’t all that bad — mine usually go on way too long.
Also, not that many people look great in those caps, especially if you have big ears like me. And you’ll have plenty of time to catch up with your friends once the immediate public health crisis is over. But what remains true is that your graduation marks your passage into adulthood — the time when you begin to take charge of your own life. It’s when you get to decide what’s important to you: The kind of career you want to pursue. Who you want to build a family with. The values you want to live by. And given the current state of the world, that may be kind of scary. If you’d planned on going away for college, getting dropped off at campus in the fall — that’s no longer a given. If you were planning to work while going to school, finding that first job is going to be tougher.
Even families that are relatively well-off are dealing with massive uncertainty. Those who were struggling before — they’re hanging on by a thread.
Former President Barack Obama
All of which means that you’re going to have to grow up faster than some generations. This pandemic has shaken up the status quo and laid bare a lot of our country’s deep-seated problems — from massive economic inequality to ongoing racial disparities to a lack of basic health care for people who need it. It’s woken a lot of young people to the fact that the old ways of doing things just don’t work; that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick; and that our society and our democracy only work when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other.
Second, do what you think is right. 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. I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others. You won’t get it right every time, you’ll make mistakes like we all do. But if you listen to the truth that’s inside yourself, even when it’s hard, even when it’s inconvenient, people will notice. They’ll gravitate towards you. And you’ll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
And finally, build a community. No one does big things by themselves. Right now, when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say let me just look out for myself, or my family, or people who look or think or pray like me. But if we’re going to get through these difficult times; if we’re going to create a world where everybody has the opportunity to find a job and afford college; if we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed — and set the world on a different path.
When you need help, Michelle and I have made it the mission of our foundation to give young people like you the skills and support to lead in your own communities, and to connect you with other young leaders around the country and around the globe.
But the truth is that you don’t need us to tell you what to do. Because in so many ways, you’ve already started to lead. Congratulations class of 2020. Keep making us proud”
By Candace J. Semien
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Jozef Syndicate reporter