#GraduateTogether pays tribute to seniors

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Photo by Charlotte Dursee

Dursee family watching #GraduateTogether

Charlotte Dursee, R3 Sports Editor

This past Saturday, America honored all 2020 high school seniors with an hour-long TV special called #GraduateTogether. #GraduateTogether was a live broadcast on major networking channels and streamed online. It was created to pay tribute to the three million seniors across the country whose graduations were canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. 

The virtual graduation was created and hosted by the education advocacy group XQ Institute, The LeBron James Family Foundation, and The Entertainment Industry Foundation. James said he wanted to create a way to bring families together across the country and recognize the hard work seniors have put into their academics. 

The show consisted of numerous speakers, including former President Barack Obama, Actress Zendaya, Pakistani Activists Malala Yousafzai, American Soccer Player Megan Rapinoe, and of course the host of the show, LeBron James. Each person spoke about their own high school experiences and offered advice and encouragement for the graduating class. There were also many musical performances by famous artists such as the Platt Brothers and the Jonas Brothers, featuring high school musicians.

Although not all three million seniors were able to appear in the show, there were 5,000 students who were featured, whether it be in part of a video montage of high school moments, introducing speakers, or giving their own short speech. For example Priscilla Arceo, senior valedictorian at Santa Ana High School in California, gave a student commencement speech during the show. WHS senior Noey Laskaris enjoyed this part and said, “It made me realize how many seniors are in the same boat as me right now and that we are all going through this together.”

Online graduations are not what high school seniors were expecting last September nor were they expecting to hear a commencement speech from former President Barack Obama. Towards the end of the show, Obama delivered a speech full of advice and praise for the graduating seniors. Obama touched upon the obstacles students had to overcome through their school years, such as having to deal with social media, school shootings, a parent possibly losing a job and of course COVID-19 changing their entire senior year. He said their disappointment from losing the end of their senior year will soon fade because now is “the time when you begin to take charge of your own life.” 

Obama said, “If the world is going to get better, it’s going to be up to you…This is your generation’s world to shape.” He ended his speech with three quick pieces of advice for the seniors: don’t be afraid, do what you think is right and build a community. “Obama’s speech was definitely the highlight of it all, and it pumped me up and helped me look forward to the future,” said WHS senior Greta McLaughlin. 

Similarly, Laskaris said she enjoyed Obama’s speech because “he seemed to have put into words what everyone was feeling.” 

The current global pandemic has altered 2020 in a huge way, leaving many seniors without the end of the year they expected to have. When opening the show, James thanked the seniors for giving up their senior year to keep their community safe.

 McLaughlin said, “I know I’ll probably never have a normal high school graduation, but efforts like these definitely help the whole situation and make me realize that people care.”