Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake & More Highlights From YouTube's 'Dear Class of 2020' Special
By Zach Seemayer
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This year's graduating class might not have been able to walk across the stage to celebrate their accomplishments due to the coronavirus crisis, but the stars aligned -- and teamed up -- to make sure the students felt inspired and appreciated nonetheless.
From a jazzy, orchestra-backed opening number from Lizzo to three separate messages from Barack and Michelle Obama, to speeches and calls to action from Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake and more, there was no shortage of love during this virtual graduation ceremony.
Here's a look back at some of Sunday's most moving, life-affirming appearances from the star-studded Dear Class of 2020.
The "Truth Hurts" songstress helped to open the grand virtual ceremony with some help from the New York Philharmonic orchestra, who kicked things off with an incredible flute-led performance of "Pomp and Circumstance."
The "Girl on Fire" singer opened the commencement addresses with a powerful message for the graduation class, in regards to the recent demonstrations and protests against systemic racism being held across the nation.
"I think for the first time ... we can see so clearly what injustice looks like, and now we all can choose how to respond," Keys shared. "You're showing that your generation is the one that's going to heal us."
"So 2020 decided to test you," Timberlake shared with students as he addressed the graduating class, who couldn't attend their respective ceremonies because of the coronavirus outbreak. "This is harder than any test or final you had all your life... it's not fair, it's heartbreaking, it makes you stop and think, 'Why did this happen?' I don’t have the answers. But in the face of obstacles, we have the great ability to surprise ourselves with how we fight back."
Timberlake went on to say that the entire world is impressed with the students who are graduating this year, because, "Nothing -- not even a global pandemic -- is going to keep you from the future you make for yourself."
The 21-year-old singer-songwriter shared a special message of support, telling students, "I hope that wherever your post-graduation life takes you, you continue to stay inspired.... Do what you love to do in life!" Later in the special, AMDA College of Performing Arts Choir and the Diamond Bar High School marching band performed a rendition of Mendes' hit single "There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back."
Barack and Michelle Obama
While the former president and the former first lady both delivered impassioned, inspiring speeches on their own during the ceremony, the couple also teamed up to deliver a special joint message about how important and how much the world needs the bright young students who are graduating this year.
"I know this probably isn't the kind of graduation you thought you were going to be having, I relate to that in a lot of ways," the celebrated songstress told students, recalling how she had to miss her own high school graduation because she was on the road and playing music. Swift shared she ended up getting her diploma sent to her in the mail. "I guess one good lesson to come from it is, expect the unexpected but celebrate anyway... I'm so proud of you guys and I hope that you have a wonderful time."
The superstar gave a moving commencement address praising graduates for how they've handled "arriving in the middle" of a global pandemic and moment of change for black Americans amid nationwide protests.
"Thank you for using your collective voice and letting the world know that Black Lives Matter," Beyoncé shared. "We've seen that our collective hearts, when put to positive action, could start the wheels of change. Real change has started with you, this new generation of high school and college graduates who we celebrate today."
The Hustlers star and music icon explained to students how every obstacle -- whether it's a global pandemic or more mundane challenge -- is a chance to learn and grow.
"Getting fired? Learning experience. Getting your heart broken? Learning experience. Graduating during a global crisis? That's more than a learning experience. It's a growing experience," J.Lo said. "You're learning the most important lesson of all: Every obstacle is an opportunity to grow, to change."
The Chromatica artist opened up about the recent nationwide protests against racial injustice and encouraged students to take action in an emotional address. Reflecting on the very existence of racism in America, Gaga said it sparked images in her mind of nature. She compared systemic racism in the United States to "a broad forest filled densely with tall trees."
"Trees as old as this country itself. Trees that were planted with racist seeds. Trees that grew prejudiced branches and oppressive leaves and mangled roots that buried and entrenched themselves deep within the soil forming a web so well-developed and so entangled that it pushes back when we try to look clearly at how it really works," Gaga said. "This forest is where we live. But in this moment, all of us are being invited to challenge that system and think about how to affect real change... it's you who are the seeds of the future. You are the seeds that will grow into a new and different forest that is far more beautiful and loving than the one we live in today."
The pregnant songstress, who dressed up in an elegant ensemble for the grand occasion, made the ceremony official by leading the graduating class in the traditional moving of the tassel, which has long been symbolic of the act of graduation itself.
"The time has come! Lets turn those tassels and make it kind of official. Whether you’ve got a real cap and a tassel or an iPhone charger taped to a pizza box, this is the moment for everyone around the globe to graduate at once. No matter where you are, remember: The tassel goes from right to left," Perry said, before serenading the newly-minted graduates with a performance of her new single "Daisies" and her hit 2010 classic "Firework."