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June 11, 2020

Celeb Commencement Speeches: Honoring Gen Z Grads

Most of us probably remember our high school graduation. The uncomfortable graduation caps, the seemingly never-ending number of pictures to take, and the anticipation of walking across the stage to get your diploma. Though you may not have befriended all of your classmates, the feeling of shared success brought everyone together to celebrate. 

This year, our seniors didn’t get that long-sought-after celebration, unfortunately. But to give graduating seniors something special, over 70 celebrities came together for a graduation ceremony like no other to celebrate the class of 2020, whose traditional graduation festivities were unable to happen.

Everybody coming together

This past week, YouTube Originals released a 4.5-hour video titled “Dear Class of 2020.” And we’ll be the first to say, it’s a lot to break down. Other virtual graduation videos of the like have been made over the past couple of months, but this one is certainly the most substantial. To summarize, the video features over 75 celebrities from various areas of entertainment, as well as graduating high school and college students from all over the world. Over the course of the video, viewers hear commencement speeches from culture icons like Beyoncé and Barack Obama, snippets of advice from entertainers like John Mulaney and Jimmy Kimmel, and musical performances from artists like Katy Perry and BTS.

Even though graduation was the overall theme of the video, the diversity of guests allowed for a diversity of messages to be shared, creating a piece of work that was inclusive to viewers of many different beliefs and lifestyles. Some celebrities chose to speak about racism and using your voice to bring about change. Others spoke for students from different family structures and incomes. And many just tried to get a laugh in. 

Though Axis does not agree with everything these celebrities shared, we did find strength and hope in this: Each speech served to celebrate and recognize nearly every kind of student across the globe—the academics, the athletes, the artists, students from blended families, and so much more. There is beauty in our differences, and Gen Z perfectly illustrates this beauty in their authenticity and desire for realness. And in the end, they shared a call to greatness through uncertain times that the class of 2020 needed to hear. 

Why the speeches meant something to the class of 2020 

For Gen Z, not being able to finish their semester or attend a graduation ceremony led to feelings of fear, disappointment, and sadness. Graduation is an accomplishment to be highlighted, but with everything else going on in the world, many teens felt their big moment went unnoticed. And on top of that, the stress of having to figure out life’s next steps was already tough enough without the added pressure of being isolated and unable to find jobs. 

For many teens, this video graduation might have even felt more special and valuable than their originally planned ceremonies. We’ve frequently talked about Gen Z’s desire for authenticity and relatability, so seeing influencers and celebrities that your teen respect share their advice and well wishes may actually feel a lot more genuine and appreciated than whoever their school’s faculty deemed a notable person to speak this year. 

Gen Z strives for success, so to hear congratulations from the people they deem most successful is incredibly impactful and motivating. And because the ceremony is permanently on YouTube, students can watch at their own pace whenever they want. As attention spans continue to decline, the ability to watch and rewatch in their own time and place sounds way more appealing than having to sit through a ceremony in a chair and wait for their name to be called. 

The students featured in the video share their accomplishments and thanks to the people that helped them throughout high school. They all come from different backgrounds but share a common goal along with students all over the world: finishing high school and moving on to the next phase of life. Gen Z praises inclusivity and individuality, so to see like-minded peers share their experiences, the video serves as a coming together to celebrate the common culture of the class of 2020 more than the graduation itself.

Talk About it With Your Teen

Whether your teen is graduating or not, it’s possible they’ve seen at least a part of the video. Along with the full performance, YouTube Originals posted separate clips from different speeches and performances throughout the video so that viewers could find their favorite celebrity and watch just that part. While you may not have time to watch the entire video, find some speeches and performances from people relevant to your teen, then use these questions to get the conversation started!

  1. Do you think this served as a valuable substitution for a traditional graduation ceremony?
  2. What about the speeches, advice, or performances stuck out to you? Why?
  3. Does hearing advice and congratulations from celebrities you know mean more to you than if it was from a teacher or fellow classmate?
  4. Do you think celebrities should put together videos like this for future graduating classes?
  5. How did you feel seeing other students from all over the world in the video? Could you relate to them?
  6. Did you feel included in this ceremony? Did you feel celebrated?

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