Like so many of you, I watched former President Obama’s High School Commencement Speech and then I went and found the transcript and reread it a number of times. There is something so reassuring, so inspiring and so down to earth about how Obama addresses the 2020 graduating classes. For those of us who have had the opportunity to address a graduating class, whether at the elementary, secondary or post-secondary level, we’ve just been provided with the best possible blueprint.
He begins by recognizing our current situation, not with doom and gloom or hyperbole of “winning the war” against a virus, but by acknowledging the resilience of this generation and the challenges that no other generation has had to overcome. And yes, the disappointment that the formal celebrations have been postponed and will probably look very different for this graduating class.
As Obama transitions his audience into their immediate future, which can only be described as full of uncertainty, he encourages a call to action and a radical change in how we’ve been doing business. The brilliance of this call to action is that it is aimed at the graduating class. He recognizes that it will be this generation of leaders who will truly make a difference because, “all those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing, 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”.
I couldn’t help but wonder about our own situation as we sit on the precipice of making some monumental decisions about education right here in Thames Valley. I truly hope that we’ll be turning to these future leaders and gaining their insight and direction as we dive into conversations about graduation and an eventual return to school. I’m not sure that the adults (who only know how it’s been done in the past) will be able to formulate the best possible solution. As Obama shared, “…. this is your generation’s world to shape”. We need to hear from those personally impacted and with a view into their future.
Obama closes his commencement speech with three sage pieces of advice, each one inspirational and meaningful:
1) Don’t be afraid
2) Do what’s right
3) Build a Community
Like all great leaders, he ends with offering his support, but recognizing that it’s not needed. Just as Glinda tells Dorothy, “you don’t need me. You’ll always had the power…”.
May each graduate, who has the opportunity to hear this address, take these words to heart and be inspired to authentically make choices that will lead us from this pandemic to a better world.
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