The final stretch for the Class of 2020 has been unlike that faced by any other graduating class in this country’s history. From remote classes to canceled events to no-walk diplomas, the coronavirus pandemic — and the quarantine and social distancing that came with it — quashed traditions.
That’s why when Lady Gaga prepared a special address for “Dear Class of 2020,” the YouTube-hosted, star-studded, virtual graduation ceremony, she planned to speak about that very topic.
But that was before the public health crisis that seemed to be the defining theme of the year suddenly shared the spotlight with yet another crisis, one that could not be ignored after the death of George Floyd.
(Skip ahead to 3:28:40 to see Lady Gaga speak.)
"Two weeks ago, I recorded a very different commencement speech to help celebrate the wonderful accomplishment that is your graduation,” the 11-time Grammy winner said at the event. “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."
But rapidly changing current events caused her to rewrite and rerecord her message.
“My speech was recorded before the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent activist movement protesting police brutality and systemic racism in this country,” she continued. “While my original commencement 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."
And as she explained, it’s the very movement that's driven people into the streets to protest that is worthy of that celebration because change is coming.
“You are watching what is a pivotal moment in this country’s evolution,” the 34-year-old said. “You are watching society change in a deeply important way. This change will be slow, and we will have to be patient. But change will happen, and it will be for the better.”
Gaga then stated that in rewriting her speech, she asked herself how she viewed racism in the United States and how it relates to graduates.
“When I looked past the rage that I feel about this systemic oppression, and physical and emotional violence that has tortured the black community endlessly, my mind turned to nature,” she said.
She spoke of seeds planted as the nation formed, leaving a forest of “prejudice branches and oppressive leaves and mangled roots.” She said the “forest is where we live. It’s who we are. It’s the morals and values system that we as a society have upheld and emboldened for centuries.”
But the “Rain on Me” singer also sees it as a landscape to be reformed by the Class of 2020.
"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,” she insisted. “I believe you beautiful seeds 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.”
She closed her speech with a simple but powerful sentiment: "I can't wait to see your forest.”
Gaga was just one of the dozens of famous faces who spoke to graduates for “Dear Class of 2020,” which included Beyoncé, Lizzo, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Billie Eillish, Jennifer Lopez, BTS, former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, as well as many others.
So the class that faced graduation like none other before was also able to celebrate it like none other before.