Hi, everybody. Congratulations to H.B.C.U. (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) class of 2020. Michelle and I are so proud of you.
Graduating from college is a big achievement under any circumstances. And so many of you overcame a lot to get here. You navigated challenging classes, and challenges outside the classroom. Many of you had to stretch to afford tuition. And some of you are the first in your families to reach this milestone.
So even if half this semester was spent at Zoom University, you’ve earned this moment. You should be very proud. Everybody who supported you along the way is proud of you — parents, grandparents, professors, mentors, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins, cousins who you aren’t even sure are cousins. Show them some gratitude today.
Now look, I know this isn’t the commencement any of you really imagined. Because while our H.B.C.U.s are mostly known for an education rooted in academic rigor, community, higher purpose — they also know how to turn up. Nobody shines quite like a senior on the yard in springtime. Springfest at schools like Howard and Morehouse, that’s the time when you get to strut your stuff a little bit. And I know that in normal times, rivals like Grambling and Southern, Jackson State and Tennessee State, might raise some eyebrows at sharing a graduation ceremony.
But these aren’t normal times. You’re being asked to find your way in a world in the middle of a devastating pandemic and a terrible recession. The timing is not ideal. And let’s be honest — a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country. We see it in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.
Injustice like this isn’t new. What is new is that so much of your generation has woken up to the fact that the status quo needs fixing; that the old ways of doing things don’t work; and that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick; that our society and democracy only works when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other.
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. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.
If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you. With everything suddenly feeling like it’s up for grabs, this is your time to seize the initiative. Nobody can tell you anymore that you should be waiting your turn. Nobody can tell you anymore “this is how it’s always been done.” More than ever, this is your moment — your generation’s world to shape.