President Barack Obama delivered another online commencement speech on Sunday, specifically addressing the protests in reaction to the death of George Floyd.
He acknowledged the disruptive period of protest in the lives of young graduates but urged them to have hope.
“You don’t always need hope when everything’s fine,” he said. “It’s when things seem darkest, that’s when you need it the most.”
Obama alluded to a quote from feminist author Rebecca Solnit who wrote that hope was not a “lottery ticket.”
“Hope is not a lottery ticket,” he said. “It’s a hammer for us to use in a national emergency, to break the glass, sound the alarm, and sprint into action. That’s what hope is.”
Obama argued that the protests were a direct correlation of the “failure to reform police practices” for generations, and urged young people to address the injustices in the police force and justice system.
“[T]he protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and Nina Pop aren’t simply a reaction to those particular tragedies, as heartbreaking as they are,” he said.“They speak to decades worth of anguish and frustration over unequal treatment and a failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system.”
Obama also urged all 2020 graduates to work to build a better society,
“The challenges we face go beyond a virus,” he said. “The old normal wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t working that well.”
He noted the protests brought forth “decades worth of anguish and frustration” in the country, such as economic and health care inequality, political dysfunction, and the “scourge” of bigotry and sexism.
“America changed, has always changed because young people dared to hope,” he said. “Democracy isn’t about relying on some charismatic leader to make changes from on high.”