If you’re one of the many people missing a graduation ceremony this year because of coronavirus social distancing practices, Barack and Michelle Obama want to help lift your spirits.
On Tuesday morning, the former president and first lady announced they’ll be hosting two virtual graduation ceremonies — one on Saturday, May 16, and another on Saturday, June 6.
“Michelle and I are excited to celebrate the nationwide Class of 2020 and recognize this milestone with you and your loved ones,” Barack wrote on Instagram. And Michelle joined in with an exciting Twitter reveal of her own.
Barack is set to deliver a commencement message at the May 16 event, which is called, Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020. The hour-long special is being hosted by XQ Institute, The LeBron James Family Foundation, and The Entertainment Industry Foundation, and will be televised on all major networks and social media platforms at 8:00 p.m. ET.
In addition to Obama, celebrities including LeBron James, Malala Yousafzai, the Jonas Brothers, Yara Shahidi, Bad Bunny, Lena Waithe, Pharrell Williams, Megan Rapinoe, H.E.R., Ben Platt, and more are scheduled to appear, per a press release.
The “Graduate Together” website is also encouraging high school seniors, educators, and family members of graduates to submit portraits, speeches, superlatives, and “stories that need to be told” to make the experience more interactive.
Though the May 16 event looks very promising, the Obamas aren’t planning on losing any star-power for their June 6 graduation ceremony. For their second virtual event, the Obamas partnered with Reach Higher — the education initiative Michelle started back in the White House — and YouTube.
“Dear Class of 2020” will stream on YouTube on June 6 at 3:00 p.m. ET, and feature speakers like BTS, Lady Gaga, Sec. Robert M. Gates, Sundar Pichai, Sec. Condoleezza Rice, and Malala Yousafzai. Other special guests include Alicia Keys, Kelly Rowland, Zendaya, Kerry Washington, and more.
You can learn more about the YouTube event and “RSVP” to the virtual celebration here.
As noted on Reach Higher’s website, “Over the past month, President and Mrs. Obama have received dozens of requests from around the globe to address graduating classes whose in-person commencement events have been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
Several virtual graduation ceremonies have already taken place or are set to in the coming months, but 17-year-old Lincoln Debenham, a graduating senior at Eagle Rock High School in California, spearheaded the push for Obama to deliver a national commencement speech.
“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. We ask you to consider giving a national commencement speech to the class of 2020,” Debenham tweeted at Obama in April.
Hi @BarackObama! 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. We ask you to consider giving a national commencement speech to the class of 2020.
— Lincoln (@lincolnjackd) April 15, 2020
Debenham’s tweet went viral and inspired many other Twitter users to tweet at Obama using the hashtag #ObamaCommencement2020.
It looks like his efforts paid off, and shortly after the Obamas announced their virtual graduation plans Debenham tweeted his appreciation to both Barack and Michelle.
“It feels amazing to see how well the tweet did. I never imagined it would get to this point but it goes to show how much it resonated with people,” Debenham said in a Twitter DM when asked about his original tweet to Obama.
“Everybody, not just graduates, could use this to lift their spirits. It really means so much to me and the class of 2020 that Mr. and Mrs. Obama agreed to do this. Those are people who led our generation for so long and have left the greatest impact on us for sure,” he added.
You’ve gotta love when the power of the internet is used for good.
UPDATE: May 5, 2020, 12:43 p.m. EDT Updated to include comment from Lincoln Debenham.