Barack Obama wants the impact of this moment to be lasting.
The former president delivered a heartfelt, inspiring message to this year's graduating class on YouTube Originals' Dear Class of 2020. The over-four hour special, which aired on Sunday, also featured commencement speeches by Barack's wife, Michelle Obama, as well as Beyoncé.
In his speech, Barack acknowledged how "head-spinning" the last few months must have been for graduates, but urged them not to wish things would go back to normal. As he stated, he hopes they'll create a "new normal."
"Your generation is graduating into a world that faces more profound challenges than any generation in decades. It can feel like everything's up for grabs right now. A lot of this uncertainty is a direct result of COVID-19, 100,000 lives it has taken from us, the economic disruption it's caused. No one can say for sure how much longer the crisis will last. A lot of that will depend on the choices we make as a country. But it will eventually end. Vaccines and treatments will emerge, the economy will begin to heal, and life will return to normal," he began.
"What these past few weeks have also shown us is the challenges we face go well beyond a virus. And the old normal wasn't good enough. It wasn't working that well," Barack continued. "In a lot of ways, the pandemic just brought into focus a lot of problems that have been growing for a very long time, whether it is widening economic inequality, the lack of basic healthcare for millions of people, the continuing surge of bigotry and sexism, or the functions that plague our political system. Similarly, the protests in response to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Nina Pop aren't simply a reaction to those particular tragedies. As heartbreaking as they are, they speak to decades worth of anguish and frustration over unequal treatment and a failure to reform police practices and our criminal justice system."
The former politician went on, telling graduates that the "shocks to the system" they're witnessing are a wake-up call to "make things better."
"You don't have to accept what was considered normal before. You don't have to accept the world as it is. You can make it into the world as it should be, could be. You could create a new normal, one that is fairer and gives everybody opportunity and treats everyone equally and builds bridges between people instead of dividing them," he proposed. "Just as America overcame slavery and civil war, recessions and depression, Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and all kinds of social upheaval, we can emerge from our current circumstances stronger than before. Better than before. But, as has always been true at key moments in history, it's going to depend on young people like you to go out there and rewrite what's possible."
Barack said it's been "unbelievably inspiring" to see how young people have already started to rewrite what's possible -- by getting out on the streets and peacefully protesting, regardless of race or background. "You make me optimistic about our future," he shared.