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Virtual Commencement Wisdom for the Class of 2020

Words of advice from virtual graduation speakers like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

If you’re part of the class of 2020, chances are that your graduation ceremony looked a whole lot different than what you’d pictured—if it happened at all. But while a lot has certainly changed during the last few months of your undergraduate career, one thing certainly hasn’t: your potential.

To celebrate the incredible feat you’ve accomplished and recognize the promising places you’re headed, influential figures across the country have stepped up to offer advice and appreciation to today’s grads. Despite a nontraditional senior year, the class of 2020 boasts hands-down the most impressive roster of graduation speakers ever: the likes of Oprah, Steph Curry, and even Barack Obama all contributed to your virtual celebration through heartfelt video messages and virtual commencement speeches.

Ahead, we’ve compiled some of our favorite words of wisdom for the class of 2020 from these virtual graduation events… and contributed some advice of our own. Congratulations, class of 2020! You’re going to do amazing things.

Barack Obama: “Work to build a community.”

The former president of the United States took part in several virtual graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020, including giving the commencement address for the live-streamed “Show Me Your Walk: HBCU Edition,” which celebrated the accomplishments of grads from historically black colleges and universities. You can read the full transcript of the Obama’s HBCU commencement speech here, and watch his equally inspiring graduation speech for high school graduates across the US here.

Oprah Winfrey: “You are a united class.”

Oprah served as the keynote speaker for Facebook’s #Graduation2020 event, joined by entertainers like Miley Cyrus and Matthew McConaughey, along with groundbreakers like Malala Yousafzai—who is also graduating from university this year—and Olympian Simone Biles. In her commencement speech, Oprah shared the type of inspiration and encouragement that has endeared her to audiences for decades:

“You are indeed the chosen class for such a time as this, the Class of 2020. You’re also a united class, the pandemic class, that has the entire world striving to graduate with you. But even though there may not be pomp because of our circumstances, never has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, vision, passion and energy and hope. Your graduation ceremony is taking place with so many luminaries celebrating you on the world’s Facebook stage, and I’m just honored to join them and salute you.”

You can watch the full speech and #Graduation2020 event here.

Christine Cruzvergara: “Repetition builds reputation.”

Handshake VP of Higher Education and Student Success Christine Cruzvergara has two simple pieces of advice for the class of 2020.

  1. Repetition builds reputation. “It’s your daily actions that make up who you are and how others will remember you. Not the big win, not the huge account you closed, not your awards… it’s the combination of everything you do. So how you show up to people everyday, how you answer emails (or don’t), and how you treat those around you makes a difference.” 
  2. Don’t discount anyone or anything. “You never know where wisdom can come from, what you might learn, and who you might end up connecting to again in the future. So pay attention and remember that your everyday actions have a long-lasting impact that could significantly help you (or hurt you).”

Ellen Degeneres: “Things will get better.”

“In my life, I’ve been through some incredible highs and some incredible lows, and the one thing that’s true about both of them is that they pass,” Ellen shared during a virtual commencement speech filmed from her living room. “Cherish the good times, and in the bad times remember that they won’t last forever. Things will get better.”

You can watch Ellen’s full speech here.

Stephen Curry: “Invest in the success of others.”

During his commencement speech for Chase’s #ShowMeYourWalk event, six-time NBA All-Star Stephen Curry dropped serious wisdom about the importance of community over individual success. After sharing his own experiences learning about teamwork, personal sacrifice, and overcoming fear during college, Curry shared this advice for today’s grads: “Invest in your community. Invest in the success of others. It’s not about being the only one that succeeds; it’s about multiplying to many.”

You can watch Steph’s full commencement speech for the class of 2020 below.

Billie Jean King: “Never stop learning how to learn.”

Tennis legend and lifelong activist Billie Jean King was one of many notable participants in Her Campus‘s “I’m Still Graduating” virtual ceremony, which also featured appearances from celebs like the Jonas Brothers, Eva Longoria, and Tamryn Hall. King boiled down her advice for the class of 2020 into three simple takeaways:

  1. “Relationships are everything.”
  2. “Never stop learning, and never stop learning how to learn.”
  3. “Be a problem-solver.”

You can watch King’s full speech here, then check out other highlights from speakers at the Her Campus event here.

Garrett Lord: “Explore problems that are important to you.”

Garrett Lord, co-founder and CEO of Handshake, encourages the class of 2020 to channel the energy they’re feeling right now into something that can change the world.

“This is a challenging time. But for those of us who are able, I’d encourage you to see if there are also opportunities here to make a difference. Explore problems that are important to you. For me, that problem was clear: the uneven playing field of job opportunities for college students around the country. Think about the steps you might start to take to begin attacking that problem head-on. Your first step might involve enlisting some like-minded friends to help you, applying for a position with a nonprofit, mapping out a business plan, or reaching out to an influential figure for advice… sometimes, small steps make the biggest impact on the world around you. Try to channel the uncertainty you’re feeling in this moment into energy that can guide your future. Some of the best innovations of the past were spurred by immense hurdles; I look forward to seeing the way you will change the world based on what you’re experiencing right now.”

John Legend: “Imagine a better future.”

As a part of iHeartMedia’s commencement speech podcast series, EGOT-winner John Legend encouraged today’s graduates to focus on the positives that have come out of the past several months.

“It’s my hope that years from now, when we look back on this unprecedented time, that we remember not the moments we lost, but the way we rose up together to imagine a better future in which we defined ourselves by love, hope, resilience, and the spirit of community. I hope we remember the ways in which we supported one another; how we made personal sacrifices for the greater benefit of all. How in these trying times we came to truly understand our own potential, and the strength of the bonds that tie us to one another.”

You can listen to his full speech here, along with others from like likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli Manning, and Halsey.