Gaga began by explaining how she originally recorded a different speech for the commencement special two weeks ago, before the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked massive demonstrations across the world.
So, in deference to the civil unrest and highly publicized examples of police brutality amid the protests, she decided to record something new.
"My speech at that time reflected and referenced the shared experience of the COVID-19 global pandemic that has devastated the world this year and how important it is to be a force of kindness in the world as you take the next step forward in your promising lives," Gaga explained. "While my original speech may not be directly relevant to what this country needs most right now, I wish to tell you today that although there is much to be sad about, there is also much to be celebrated."
The songstress said that, right now, young people across the county are witnessing "a pivotal moment in this country's evolution," and seeing all of society "change in a deeply important way."
"This change will be slow and we will have to be patient," she added. "But change will happen and it will be for the better."
The singer went on to explain that, when looking past "the rage that I feel about this systemic oppression" and reflecting on the very existence of racism, 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," she continued. "I believe in my heart that the people who are going to make this change happen are listening to me speak right now. I know this is true because 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."
Gaga said that the "beautiful seeds" graduating this year have been "presented with a wonderful gift: The opportunity to reflect in this powerful moment on your morals, your principles and your values and how they will guide you through life as it presents itself and as you wonder where it will take you."
The singer said that, in the original speech she recorded for the graduation address, she asked, "What would it take to be kind all the time?"
"Perhaps this question is still relevant today," Gaga said. "People can do hard things. You can do hard things. You can rip up and replant the forest to be a vision only you have."
"Sometimes being kind is hard. I'm sure you can think of a few unkind classmates, friends, family members, strangers, people, teachers from your school or even times that you've acted unkindly," she continued. "So since being kind can mean doing a hard thing, sometimes even in the absence of kindness, people can still do the hard thing and be kind. I encourage you to be kind."
"Congratulations to the class of 2020," Gaga concluded. "I can't wait to see your forest."
The YouTube Originals special, Dear Class of 2020, was filmed over the course of the last several weeks. Its debut was shifted from Saturday to Sunday out of respect and deference to Floyd's memorial service.
The commencement opened with Lizzo and the New York Philharmonic's performance of "Pomp and Circumstance," as well as remarks from Alicia Keys. Commencement speakers included Barack and Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, BTS, former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, CEO of Google and Alphabet Sundar Pichai, and Malala Yousafzai, among many others.