Barack Obama addressed the graduating high school students in the US in a special address. These are the big takeaways.
Former US President Barack Obama joined a host of celebrities, artists, activists, and students in a virtual event called Graduate Together. The even celebrated the graduation of school students, an event which has a long tradition in America. Graduation Day in schools and colleges usually has a guest of honour delivering a commencement speech offering words of advice to young students, commencing their new life. Since schools couldn’t host on-ground graduation events, a national Graduate Together event brought together several achievers from various walks of life. Among them was former American President Barack Obama who delivered a crisp seven-and-a-half-minute speech that was funny and insightful, self-deprecatory but also inspiring. Here are some of the most important lessons from Barack Obama’s commencement speech.
1. No one has the answers but that means you have the opportunity
In his speech Obama admitted that at this moment of uncertainty, when the adults in the room are supposed to know how to navigate through this crisis, no one seems to have the answers. “A lot of them aren’t even asking the right questions,” he said, “So, if the world’s gonna get better, it’s gonna be up to you.” Obama pointed out that while this may be an intimidating realisation, he also hoped that it would be an inspiring one. “With all the challenges this country faces right now, nobody can tell you, “No, you’re too young to understand.” Or, “This is how it’s always been done.” Because with so much uncertainty, with everything suddenly up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape.”
2. Learn from past mistakes
“America's gone through tough times before,” Obama said. “Slavery, civil war, famine, disease, the Great Depression, and 9/11. 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.”
Indeed, there’s probably no better time than now to learn from our mistakes. It is evident how just a few weeks of slowing down can help the planet heal. Jellyfish in the canals of Venice, peacocks in the heart of Mumbai – imagine what would happen if we really took global warming seriously?
3. Do what you think is right, not what’s easy.
This holds true not just for kids but, really, for everyone! “Doing what feels good—what's convenient, what's easy—that's now little kids thing. Unfortunately a lot of so-called grownups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way. Which is why things are so screwed up,” Obama said seemingly taking a dig at Donald Trump. “I hope that instead you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others.”
Doing the convenient thing is easy. Getting behind the right thing is almost always difficult. As we enter what is clearly going to be a new era, the onus on doing the difficult thing lies upon us – not just the young graduates but even the elders.
“You won't get it right every time, you'll make mistakes like we all do. But if you listen to the truth that's inside yourself even when it's hard, even when it's inconvenient, people will notice. They'll gravitate toward you, and you'll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” Obama said.
4. Take everyone with you
Obama pointed out that no great things can be achieved alone. “Right now, when people are scared, it's easy to be cynical and say let me just look out for myself, or my family, or people who look or think or pray like me. But if we're going to get through these difficult times, if we're going to create a world where everybody has opportunity to find a job and afford college, if we're going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we're going to have to do it together,” he said.
Being alive to the struggle of our fellow human beings doesn’t just help us become better people or better versions of ourselves, it also helps, as Obama put it, ‘set the world on a different path.’
Watch the full speech here: