Barack and Michelle Obama both gave politically charged speeches to graduates during a YouTube ceremony.
Michelle said that “anger is a powerful force” while Barack said, “the old normal wasn’t good enough.”
“You deserve this celebration. Congratulations,” Michelle said. “This is an important time of transition. In light of the current state of our country, I struggle to find the right words of wisdom for you today.”
“So I am here today to talk to you, not as the former first lady but as a real-life person, a mother, a mentor, a citizen concerned about your future and the future of our country because right now, all that superficial stuff of titles and positions, all of that has been stripped away,” she continued. “A lot of us are reckoning with the most basic essence of who we are,” she said.
Michelle added the country’s “Foundation has been shaken, not just by a pandemic that stole too many of our loved ones, upended our daily lives and sent tens of millions into unemployment but also by the rumbling of the age-old fault lines that our country was built on, the lines of race and power that are now once again so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with,” she said.
“It’s up to you to march hand in hand with your allies, to stand peacefully with dignity and purpose on the front lines in the fight for justice,” she said.
“Graduates, anger is a powerful force. It can be a useful force, but left on its own, it will only corrode and destroy and sow chaos on the inside and out. But when anger is focused, when it’s channeled into something more, oh, that is the stuff that changes history,” she continued.
“Dr. King was angry. Sojourner Truth was angry. Lucretia Mott, Cesar Chavez, the folks at Stonewall, they were all angry. But those folks were also driven by compassion, by principle, by hope. And so they took advantage of whatever resources they had in their own time,” she added.
“Graduates, this is how you can finish the work that the generations before you have started, by staying open and hopeful even in the tough times, by channeling that discomfort you feel into activism and a democracy that was designed to respond to those who vote,” she said.
“I have seen exactly who you are. I’ve seen your creativity and your talent and your resourcefulness. I’ve seen you speaking out to end gun violence and fight climate change,” Obama continued. “I’ve seen you gathering donations for those in need during this pandemic. I have seen you marching with peace and with purpose. And that is why, even in tough times like these, you continue to be what gives me hope.”
“As scary and uncertain as these times may be, they are also a wake-up call, and they are an incredible opportunity, for your generation. Because you don’t have to accept what was considered normal before. The challenges we face go beyond a virus. The old normal wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t working that well.”