Susan Adams article appeared on Forbes.com
When you can not do things with great pomp a what circumstances can a graduation ceremony look like? This is the question that countless high schools and colleges across America have had to answer this year because of the global pandemic. So teachers, parents, students and leaders have devised a series of creative and in any case significant celebrations for the 2020 Class.
In Walhalla, South Carolina, the lampposts on Main Street were decorated with banners depicting the portraits of 257 past graduates. For students of North Salem High School in New York, the graduation ceremony will take place in a drive-in cinema next month. And what better way to celebrate class at Speedway High School than to cross the finish line at the nearby Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the 500-mile Indianapolis race is run.
In addition to all the celebrations, some of America’s most inspiring politicians, business leaders, actors, athletes and musicians have come forward to offer words of encouragement and support in speeches to this year’s graduates, broadcast in streaming during virtual ceremonies, via podcasts, on social media and on television.
Here are some pieces of wisdom for the 2020 Class …
(show character and philanthropist)
Can you, class 2020, show us not how to put the pieces back together, but how to create a new, more evolved normality, a more just, kind, beautiful, tender, bright, creative world? We need you to do it because the pandemic has shed light on the great systemic inequalities that have marked too many lives for too long.
For poor communities without adequate access to healthcare, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For immigrant communities forced to hide in the shadows, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For imprisoned people, with no possibility of social distancing, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For every person affected by partiality and fanaticism, for every black man and woman who lives in his American skin, even afraid of jogging, inequality is a pre-existing condition.
You have the power to fight and vote for healthier conditions that will create a healthier society. This is an invitation to you to use your training to start healing our afflictions, to apply the best of what you have learned in your head and felt in your heart.
Bill Gates (Microsoft founder)
Some of you may have been inspired from this crisis to pursue careers in epidemiology or in the health field. It’s fantastic, but it’s not the only way to contribute. Politicians will have many decisions to make in the months and years ahead on how to recover from this crisis and how to prevent it from happening again. You can use your voice and your vote to support policies that create a healthier and better future for everyone, everywhere.
The important thing to remember about career paths is that they don’t have to last forever. When I was twenty, I thought I would work in the software industry forever. I’ve never seen myself work in philanthropy or global health, not to mention quitting my job at Microsoft to take care of these issues full time. As you get older, your interests and abilities will evolve. My advice is to be open to change. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Barack Obama (44th President of the United States)
First of all, this pandemic has made the curtain drop completely on the idea that so many insiders really know what they are doing. Many of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge. If the world improves, it will depend on you. It is as if everything was suddenly ready, this is the time for you to take the initiative. Nobody can tell you anymore that you should wait your turn, nobody can tell you that it has always been this way. More than ever this is your moment, the world of your generation.
You have more role models, more paths, more resources than the generation of civil rights. You have more tools, technology and talent than my generation. No generation has been better positioned to fight for justice and rebuild the world.
Malala Yousafzai (activist)
Like all of you, I will also miss the graduation ceremony this year. And we are not alone. Across the world, Covid-19 has forced over a billion students to leave school. For most of us this is temporary. We will continue our educational path and follow our dreams.
But many girls, especially in developing countries, will never go back to class. Because of this crisis, they will be forced into early marriages or low-income jobs to support their families. When schools reopen, their desks will be empty. They are our peers. They have the same right to education that we have.
So, I ask you to remember them today when you get out of here to change the world. Don’t leave them behind. The 2020 class will not be defined by what we have lost due to this virus, but by how we will respond to it. The world is yours now and I can’t wait to see what you will do with it.
Tim Cook, (Apple CEO)
When I joined Apple in 1998, I couldn’t believe my luck. I would have spent the rest of my professional life working for Steve Jobs. But fate comes like a thief at night. The loneliness I felt when we lost Steve was proof that there is nothing more eternal or more powerful than the impact we have on others. Those of us who can look back at this moment and remember the inconvenience and even boredom can feel lucky. Many others have experienced real difficulties and fears. And as we turn to our loved ones and friends for comfort, we think carefully about those whose impact on our lives is more distant, but no less significant.
Think of a father without a residence permit, ignored or despised by his community, who is now putting his life in the fields at risk to feed his family and yours. Think of a single mother, who replenishes the shelves at night and drives a city bus in the morning, without which many things could not work. Think of the hospital attendants, who wash the ward with their hands and knees, whose work today is as solitary and sacred as that of a high priest who purifies a temple. Above all, think of how you, who have had the good fortune of having a high level education, could act and work and be different when all this is over. Set aside in your heart how these times have revealed what really matters: the health and well-being of our loved ones, the resilience of our communities, and the sacrifice made by those – from doctors to those who collect used items – who give everything to them themselves to help others.
LeBron James (Athlete)
2020 class, I know the last thing what you want to hear right now is “stay home”. This is not my message for you. My message is, state close at home. Maybe not physically but in all other possible ways. Pursue every ambition, go as far as possible and be the first generation to embrace a new responsibility, that of rebuilding your community.
Class of 2020, the world has changed. You will determine how to rebuild it and I ask you to make your community your priority. Congratulations born in 2020. I love you all and remember one thing: you are all kings and queens.
Steven Spielberg (film director)
Dreams are an excellent test. Because a dream will test your determination and you will recognize a dream by how unattainable it is. A real dream is something that not only attracts but that you can also cling to. And it will support you through every obstacle that people and your environment will launch against you.
Because if we are at the service of our dreams instead of our dreams at our service, something bigger is created. This allows us to overcome our fear of moving forward, regardless of the obstacles we will find on our path.
Chelsea Handler (Comic)
Accept the refusal, whether it comes from a boy, a girl, a colleague or a boss. Rejection would not seem like something you want to accept, but rejection is never permanent. Just as success is never permanent, the sooner you manage to accept rejection and the sooner you will be able to overcome it. Usually, refusal catapults us into a sphere of despair, of insecure thoughts and towards questions such as: “Did I make the right decisions? Am I good at my job?
And we know that when we go through certain periods of our life, those are thoughts that really go through our heads. But those thoughts are just our thoughts. No one else defines you except yourself. Your perseverance and tenacity is what people will remember. Everyone falls, the difference makes you how you get up and the fact that you keep getting up. What others think of you is never as important as what you think of yourself.
David Chang (Chef)
I want to leave you the biggest teaching that I have acquired so far, an idea that we should remind all of us in times like these: it’s not about you. You will be happier, in my opinion, when you try to be selfless. I hope you are well. I hope you are proud of your successes, and that you are eager to get to work so that in decades you can look around and say that you have left things a little better than you found them. Congratulations. Now the hard work begins.
Megan Rapinoe (Athlete)
We are separated in ways that we have never experienced and in front of a world that will never be the same again. So, I’m not going to ask you to join. I will ask you to ask better together.
For many of you, this year will be the first time you will vote. I urge you not to lose sight of the importance of decision makers in times of crisis and in times of triumph. From your mayor to your governor, to your senator, to the President of the United States. Whoever drives counts.
I know firsthand the power of a movement led by and for the next generation. Be that generation. Collect the flame and leave your mark. Get involved and build the future you want and believe in and fight to make it happen.
John Legend (Musician)
The reason I’m here, the reason I have made such a wonderful journey in my life is that I have found love. Yes, love. We were all made to love and I found that we live our lives to the fullest, we have the greatest success, not only because we are smarter than everyone else, not because we push harder, not because we become millionaires faster.
The key to success, the key to happiness is to open your mind and heart to love, to spend time doing things you love with the people you love. I believe that during uncertain and difficult times, we must rely on love to show us our path more clearly, because when you trust what your heart is saying to you, love becomes your polar star.
Anthony Fauci (director, NIAID)
I have I was lucky enough to graduate from Regis High School in 1958. I often say it was the best educational experience I could have imagined. I immersed myself in the intellectual rigor of Jesuit education. It is important to emphasize that some principles of the Jesuit tradition have supported me throughout my life and throughout my career.
Two of these, the precision of thought and the measure in expression, outline how I think, how I write and how I communicate with the public every day, especially during the current, disturbing times.
Equally important, however, is the Jesuit’s emphasis on social justice and service to others. And now is the time, if ever there was one, to take care of each other selflessly.
Hillary Clinton (former secretary of state)
I will leave you some practical advice: good friends will allow you to overcome even the worst moments, so stay in touch with them. Always send thank you notes. Being polite is not the same as being politically correct. So treat others how you want to be treated. Find out how to sew a button. Check the source of everything you read or share. Vote in every single election, not just the presidential ones. Believe in science, including vaccinations. Wash your hands.
And if all else fails, try meditation or alternative breathing of the nostril. I’ve done this before three debates with Donald Trump, so trust me, it’s a really good technique to deal with stress. Seriously, look for it on Google.