This year’s graduating Class of 2020 was robbed of major milestones in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. High school seniors finished their final class on Google Classroom. They couldn’t hug classmates to congratulate one another’s hard-fought accomplishments, or take in the sound of the last “school’s out” bell. Students who have spent the last four years earning a higher education at universities across the country may never again know what it feels like to be on the campus where they’ve spent so much of their young adult lives.
Still, in these times of loss, we find ways to rise together. Car parades honoring this year’s graduates are commonplace on Long Island, a community that demonstrates how to show in a crisis time and time again. Celebrities and thought leaders are also supporting the Class of 2020 though video posts that articulate sage advice and words of encouragement. Here are 13 of the best takeaways from these COVID-era commencement speeches.
“Don’t bother yourself too much if you’re not quite sure what you want to do in life. I’m 50, I have many days where I’m still not quite sure what I want to be. But I work on it, I stay in the process. Live in a way now where you can look back later and say ‘I think I handled that pretty well.’”
— Actor Matthew McConaughey shared this message on his Facebook
and Instagram feeds on May 14.
“The future is always uncertain, but we who celebrate what you have done, who celebrate all of your achievements, we are certain of one thing on this day: You will not let us down.”
—Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks told Wright State University’s graduating class in a moving video on May 2.
“Dreams are a great test, because a dream is going to test your resolve, and you’re going to know a dream from a pipe dream. You’re going to know a dream from a casual brush with something that you got excited about, and then it evaporates… A real dream is something that not only hangs on to you but you will hang onto it. And it will power you through every obstacle that people and your environment will throw against you.”
—Director Steven Spielberg shared on John Krasinski’s YouTube series
“Some Good News” on May 3.
“Memorialize in your heart the way in which these times reveal what really matters: the health and well-being of our loved ones, the resilience of our communities, and the sacrifices made by those—from doctors to garbage collectors—who give their whole selves to serving others.”
—Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Class of 2020 in the May 3 I Heart Radio podcast, Commencement Podcast.
“I also want to tell you guys it’s more than a diploma, it’s more than graduation, it’s knowledge, it’s knowing that you did it. You’re about to make some money, you’re about to show your skills on what you worked for.”
—Rapper Cardi B. advised
graduates via Facebook on May 14.
“I know you may not feel like it, but you are, indeed, the chosen class for such a time as this,”
—Oprah Winfrey shared on her Facebook and Instagram feeds on May 15.
“I know you’re missing what is supposed to be your medal ceremony, but that ceremony doesn’t change a thing. You’ve already won.”
—Olympic gymnast Simone Biles said 2020 graduates via Facebook on May 15.
“Where you start in life does not dictate where you end up… And while the circumstances of your graduation may not be ideal, you will look back on this event with the clarity of 20/20 vision and recognize it as a beautiful beginning to where you are now.”
—This Is Us actor Sterling K. Brown shared on Facebook on May 15.
“I know first-hand the power of a movement led by and for the next generation. You are that next generation. Take the torch and leave your mark. Put your stake in the ground and build the future that you want and you believe in and fight like hell to do it.”
—Soccer star Megan Rapinoe said on the NBC special “Graduate Together” a virtual graduation ceremony for the more than 3 million high school seniors in the U.S.
“Just keep on trucking, keep on going, move in to the moon, do not microwave metal, not even a tiny spoon. “You’re great, you made it, I love you.”
—Crazy Rich Asians actress Awkwafina told the graduating class in a humorous May 15 Facebook post.
“To the graduating Class of 2020, congratulations. I have one major piece of advice for you: Listen to Oprah. About everything.”
—Actor Hugh Jackman shared with grads via Facebook on May 16.
“I know that we are heading into an uncertain future, and everyone says that things will not be the same as they were before, but I know they will be better because when we go through some tough challenges we learn about who we are and what we value in our life”
—Education activist Malala Yousafzai told her fellow Oxford University graduates via Facebook on May 15.
“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 that this is how it’s always been done. More than ever this is your moment, your generation’s world to shape.”
—Former President Barack Obama said on YouTube on May 16.