Former President Barack Obama made a brief appearance during the “Show Me Your Walk HBCU Edition” virtual graduation ceremony, criticizing the country’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the death of Ahmaud Arbery.
Though Obama doesn’t mention President Trump by name, he alludes to him and the “folks in charge.”
“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” he said. “If the world is going to get better, it’s going to be up to you.”
The former president joined the commencement speech for students graduating from historically black colleges and universities near the end of the virtual ceremony. He also discussed how the black community is more severely impacted by coronavirus around the country.
“A disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country. We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities,” he said.
Obama then referenced the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man who was killed while jogging on the street in Georgia. The two white men who attacked him were arrested last week after a video of his death went viral, though it occurred in late February.
“Just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning. Injustice like this isn’t new,” he said.
Despite the students’ canceled in-person graduation, they were told they can still change the world.
“No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world,” he said. “Your participation in this democracy, your courage to stand up for what’s right, your willingness to forge coalitions, these actions will speak volumes. And if you’re inactive, that will also speak volumes.”
The commencement speech was hosted by Kevin Hart and featured appearances by Steve Harvey, Chris Paul, Debbie Allen, Vivica Fox, Anthony Hamilton, Wyclef Jean, Omari Hardwick and Doug E. Fresh.
Obama will help deliver another commencement speech later on Saturday at the Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 event hosted by the LeBron James Foundation, Entertain Industry Foundation and XQ Institute. The virtual ceremony will include appearances by Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, Malala Yousafzai, the Jonas Brothers, Yara Shahidi, Pharrell Williams, Megan Papinoe, Lena Waithe, Bad Bunny, Ben Platt, H.E.R. and more.
Find a list of other virtual graduation ceremonies here.