Attention, graduates: Barack and Michelle Obama have a message for you

Barack and Michelle Obama will give virtual commencement speeches for the class of 2020.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Former President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver commencement speeches as part of virtual graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020.


Former President Barack Obama will deliver a commencement message to the 3 million high school seniors graduating this month in a televised prime-time special.

Announced last week, “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020” also will feature appearances from LeBron James, Malala Yousafzai, the Jonas Brothers, Yara Shahidi, Bad Bunny, Lena Waithe, Pharrell Williams, Megan Rapinoe and H.E.R., among others. It will air simultaneously across all the major networks and social media platforms.

“This high school graduation season will be anything but ordinary, but that’s all the more reason why the class of 2020 deserves extraordinary advice, heartfelt encouragement and hard-won wisdom about facing new challenges in an uncertain world,” said Russlyn Ali, chief executive and cofounder of XQ Institute, which is cohosting the event with the LeBron James Family Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation.


The idea for an Obama commencement speech first gained traction three weeks ago, when Eagle Rock High School senior Lincoln Debenham, 17, took to Twitter to petition the former president.

“Like most high school/college seniors, I’m saddened by the loss of milestone events, prom & graduation. In an unprecedented time, it would give us great comfort to hear your voice,” he tweeted at Barack Obama, to the tune of 225,000 likes and more than 46,000 retweets.

Lincoln, who will study political science at Cal State L.A. in the fall, does not know if the Obamas’ decision to hold commencement events is directly tied to his original request. After his tweet went viral, CNN reported that the Obamas’ spokeswoman said the couple was aware of it and “very flattered.”

Lincoln awoke to an exciting surprise when his mother, Caissie St. Onge, burst into his bedroom at 9:30 Tuesday morning, waving her cellphone with the news.

“I’m just gonna enjoy it really, because I think it’s much-needed and it’s a really good gift that you don’t get every day,” he said of the May 16 event.

The LeBron James Family Foundation announced Wednesday that it will pay tribute to the class of 2020 with a star-studded, multimedia event May 16.

April 30, 2020

The one-hour multimedia ceremony is one of a handful of special events saluting this year’s graduating class. The former president will also join wife Michelle Obama for a virtual ceremony on YouTube called “Dear Class of 2020” alongside BTS and Lady Gaga on June 6. Oprah Winfrey, Miley Cyrus and Awkwafina will participate in a commencement streaming event for Facebook and Instagram on May 15.


And earlier this week, John Krasinski tapped Yousafzai, Winfrey, Jon Stewart and Steven Spielberg for a graduation-themed segment of his hit weekly web series, “Some Good News.”

“Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020” will air May 16 at 8 p.m. Pacific time on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

Times staff writer Faith E. Pinho contributed to this report.