Obama Honors Class of 2020 Through TV Special

Recapping the highlights of Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020

Olivia Garrone, Editorial Board

Even though many U.S. seniors will not be getting the traditional graduation ceremony they envisioned this summer, their accomplishments are not going unnoticed. A variety of unique virtual celebrations have begun to emerge on local and national scales. On May 16th, the uplifting one-hour special Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 aired on most major cable networks and streamed live on Youtube to celebrate seniors, despite the unique circumstances caused by a global pandemic. This event not only starred some of the most high profile figures in the country, including Barack Obama and Lebron James, but delivered truly heartwarming messages, sympathies, encouragement, and congratulations to graduating seniors.

The special began with host Lebron James in a room with every inch of the floor and walls covered by photos of seniors. In his opening speech, he dedicated the show to the Class of 2020 and left the viewers with thanks they quite possibly didn’t know they needed to hear until they did. “Before we get to the show, there’s something I want to say to each of you. You should have had a real graduation, I know. You should have had an incredible senior year, I know that as well. But you made a sacrifice and you did that to keep your community safe and healthy. On behalf of all of us, thank you,” said James.

Musical performances added to the celebratory mood of the special. The national anthem was uniquely beautiful as it was sung by dozens of students in their caps and gowns, harmonizing over separate video screens. One of the most lively performances was that of The Platt Brothers, who sung a fun medley of relevant cover songs including “Graduation (Friends Forever)” and “Congratulations”. And the most advertised performance by the Jonas Brothers ended the special, leaving viewers with a smile.

Despite being sandwiched between flashy musical performances and celebrities, the most memorable and heartwarming elements of the special were the video clips (including TikTok snippets) from students themselves. Students from all over the country shared moments from their lives with the world as other students narrated the story of the Class of 2020. Also sprinkled throughout the special was students sharing their stories, such as through the inspirational speech of one school’s valedictorian. 

Throughout the show, a variety of celebrities gave heartfelt speeches, including Zendaya, Timothée Chamalet, and Malala. The most anticipated speaker, Barack Obama, exceeded expectations with his address. He did not sugarcoat the truth and was honest about the situation the world is facing and the challenges of graduation in the midst of a global pandemic. He sprinkled in humor, (“Not that many people look great in those caps. Especially if you have big ears like me,” said Obama) and provided the inspiration and advice that are the hallmarks of a commencement speech. In the end, Obama left the seniors with inspirational words: “Set the world on a different path.” 

To watch the full special, check out the ABC News recording on Youtube.