"President and Mrs. Obama will share messages of advice and inspiration across multiple platforms," a spokeswoman said

By Sean Neumann
May 05, 2020 11:10 AM
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The class of 2020 is getting a graduation present some of them have been asking about for weeks:

Barack and Michelle Obama will both deliver virtual commencement speeches after the novel coronavirus pandemic eliminated the possibility of in-person ceremonies for numerous students around the country.

The Obamas announced Tuesday morning that they'll be delivering the virtual speeches via YouTube on June 6.

The "Dear Class of 2020" special will feature "global leaders, celebrities, creators and other voices," and both the former president and former first lady will give addresses, according to a statement. Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Kerry Washington will appear as well, along with activist Malala Yousafzai and others.

Acknowledging the "dozens of requests from around the globe," an Obama spokeswoman said Tuesday that "they will participate in multiple virtual commencement celebrations for students, families and educators."

"President and Mrs. Obama will share messages of advice and inspiration across multiple platforms," the spokeswoman said.

President Obama will join high school students on the primetime special "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" on May 16, airing on "all major networks" and online.

That same day, the former president will also be on the live-streamed "Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition" which will air on Twitter and YouTube at 2 p.m. ET.

President Barack Obama (left) giving a 2016 commencement speech at Howard University and former First Lady Michelle Obama (right) delivering a 2010 commencement speech at George Washington University.
| Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images; Paul Morigi/WireImage

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Obama, 58, and his wife, 56, gave a number of commencement speeches during their eight years in the Oval Office, but the political power couple hasn't given parting words to a graduating class since then.

In recent weeks, as shutdowns to slow the coronavirus pandemic ended any chance of in-person graduation ceremonies, some members of the class of 2020 took to social media to call on the Obamas to give virtual speeches for them all.

Lincoln Debenham, a 17-year-old student whose tweet asking President Obama to deliver the speech went viral, told CNN last month that he felt Obama was an "icon" for his generation.

“They got to vote for Barack Obama in mock elections when they were little kids and they got to watch Barack Obama become the first black president and get sworn in while they were in school,” said Debenham, a senior at Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles.

President Barack Obama gives the commencement speech at Hampton University in 2010.
| Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty

“I remember watching that in the classroom and feeling kind of amazed at such a young age and feel like I was a part of history,” the teen told CNN.

An Obama source told PEOPLE last month that they were "flattered" by the request.

“Wether he does or not, it isn’t about that,” Debenham tweeted in another message. “It’s about someone who speaks for my generation. Like Barack Obama was the first President I can remember. The classroom mock elections, watching his inauguration in school. That’s what this is about. Hearing that voice of hope again.”

Schools have been closed nationwide since late-March as a part of a worldwide push to slow the spread of the coronavirus by practicing social distancing and avoiding gathering in large groups.

With a little over a month left in the school year for most institutions, both teachers and students had to quickly adjust to online learning to finish out the yearly curriculum.

The transition has been hard on parents, too.

Actress Halle Berry told Entertainment Tonight that homeschooling her kids — 6 and 12 — has been a "nightmare."

President Barack Obama delivering the commencement speech at Wesleyan University in 2008.

“This is like, a wash of a semester,” Berry said. “They’re really just not learning anything and it’s hard.”

Mrs. Obama announced an effort last month to help relieve that stress for parents who unexpectedly got thrusted into the role of teacher, participating in a "Read-Along Mondays With Me" where the former first lady reads children's books on PBS Kids' YouTube channel and Penguin Random House's Facebook channel.

The former first lady also sent out congratulatory tweets on May 1 for college signing day.

"I know this #CollegeSigningDay is not what you imagined it would be, but I hope you still get a chance to celebrate this milestone in your life," Mrs. Obama wrote. "I'm so proud of all of you and will be rooting for you."

She has made educational access a major part of her post-White House activism, launching a TV series on Instagram documenting the lives of first-generation college students earlier this year.

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