News Update

Obama gives virtual “commencement address” to nation’s high school graduates

In a nationally broadcast event, former President Barack Obama shared with the nation’s high school graduates “a hard truth” — that “all those  adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing…don’t have all the answers.” In fact, he said, “a lot of them aren’t even asking the right questions.”

So, he said, “if the world’s going to get better, it going to be up to you.”

The event, which included a slew of entertainment and sports personalities, including basketball star Lebron James, was billed as the first national commencement ceremony. It was targeted at high school seniors who have been robbed of live commencement celebrations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Obama’s speech was conspicuously non-political, although some of his remarks could easily be interpreted as a commentary on some of the practices and messaging of the Trump administration.

In another commencement address earlier in the day, also delivered virtually and directed at historically black colleges and universities, his language was similar but more explicitly a criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic — again without mentioning Trump by name. “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,” he said. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

He reminded high school students that the nation has gone through tough times before — slavery, civil war, famine, disease, the Great Depression and 9/11. “And each time we came out stronger, usually because a new generation, young people like you, learned from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better,” he said.

And in dispensing advice to the graduates he delivered harsh criticism of what passes for leadership at the highest levels in the U.S. “Do what you think is right,” Obama told students. “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.”

The event was organized the  Oakland-based XQ Institute, which is underwritten by the multi-billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs.

The institute is directed by Russlyn Ali, who was an assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Dept. of Educaiton during the Obama administration.  The organization’s principal activity is to promote thinking about “the high school of the future,” and has awarded $10 million grants to several school districts and charter schools to implement innovative strategies toward that end.

Read Obama’s entire speech here