Lincoln Debenham said his original tweet was about "hearing that voice of hope again" and lifting up his senior class in a time of uncertainty

By Sean Neumann
April 16, 2020 04:34 PM
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The 17-year-old California high school senior who went viral for his request to Barack Obama to deliver a virtual “national commencement speech” for the graduating class of 2020 says that the former president is an “icon” to people his age.

Speaking to CNN this week, Lincoln Debenham said his original tweet, on Tuesday, was about “hearing that voice of hope again” and lifting up his senior class that’s seen graduation ceremonies, senior proms and all their other school-related activities go out the window in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has forced people to socially distance.

“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,” Debenham, a senior at Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles, told CNN.

“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,” Debenham said.

The high school student’s Twitter request quickly went viral, with numerous others chiming in on Twitter (including celebs like Rosie O’Donnell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

An Obama source told PEOPLE on Wednesday they were flattered but didn’t yet have any response.

With federal health officials calling on Americans to follow unprecedented social distancing guidelines, public gatherings of any kind have all but disappeared across the country — including springtime graduation ceremonies for high school and college students.

“I can’t express enough how much I miss school and everybody there,” Debenham tweeted at his high school on Wednesday night.

The hashtag #ObamaCommencement2020 began trending shortly after Debenham’s tweet on Tuesday night.

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

Louis-Dreyfus, whose son Charlie Hall graduated from Northwestern University last year, also joined in the call: “Do it, please, Mr President!,” the Veep star tweeted.

Parents on Twitter were particularly excited about their children getting a memorable graduation.

“That might help my high school senior smile about missing out on her prom, graduation and other senior activities,” one mother wrote. “I hope he does do it! Mr. @BarackObama, it’s a great idea!”

Obama, 58, and former First Lady Michelle Obama, 56, gave a number of commencement speeches throughout their time in the White House.

The former president became famous in part for his striking public speaking style — famously championing the “Yes We Can” message during his 2008 campaign.

“Wether he does or not, it isn’t about that,” Debenham tweeted in a follow-up 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.”

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