With most graduations canceled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, former president Barack Obama appeared on television and social media platforms to give two virtual commencement addresses—one for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and another for 2020 high school graduates, the latter broadcast as part of a special called Graduate Together: America Honors the Class of 2020.
On May 16, President Obama used his time to congratulate students and teachers but also to call out leaders who “don’t have all the answers” and encouraged graduates to learn from the past to carve out their own path and make the world a better place.
Obama spoke firmly about the pandemic, describing how it has “shaken up the status quo and laid bare a lot of our country’s deep-seated problems—from massive economic inequality to ongoing racial disparities to a lack of basic health care for people who need it.” He also noted that it’s woken up young people “to the fact that the old ways of doing things just don’t work.”
“It’s also pulled the curtain back on another hard truth, something that we all have to eventually accept once our childhood comes to an end,” he continued. “All those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing? It turns out that they don’t have all the answers. A lot of them aren’t even asking the right questions. So if the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you.”
He evoked a similar tone in his earlier speech to HBCUs, encouraging graduates to find their own solutions to propel the world forward. During the Graduate Together special, which also featured Zendaya, the Jonas Brothers, and Malala Yousafzai,, Obama emphasized the ideas of community and sticking together.
“So be alive to one another’s struggles,” he said. “Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us—sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed–and set the world on a different path.”
You can also watch Obama’s HBCU commencement address below:
Originally Appeared on Glamour