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Graduate Together: Honoring the class of 2020

Hear Bill Clinton's remarks to the Class of 2020
03:52

Our live coverage honoring the class of 2020 has ended. You can scroll through the posts below to see how it unfolded or read more about it here.

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Obama offers 3 pieces of advice to the class of 2020

Former President Barack Obama offered three pieces of advice to the class of 2020.

Here’s his advice for the new graduates:

Don’t be afraid Do what you think is right Build a community

“You won’t get it right every time,” Obama said. “You’ll make mistakes like we all do. But if you listen to the truth that’s inside yourself even when it’s hard, even when it’s inconvenient, people will notice. They’ll gravitate toward you. And you’ll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”

Barack Obama says class of 2020 "overcame serious obstacles"

Former President Barack Obama speaks during "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" on May 16, 2020.

Former President Barack Obama told the class of 2020 they’ve overcame many obstacles including illness, losing a parent or having a parent that lost a job.

“Along with the usual challenges of growing up, all of you have had to deal with added pressure because of social media, reports of school shootings and the specter of climate change,” Obama said.

And as seniors were getting ready to graduate, Covid-19 struck, Obama said.

“As much as I’m sure you love your parents, I’ll bet being stuck at home with them and playing board games or watching ‘Tiger King’ on TV is not exactly how you envisioned the last few months of your senior year,” he said.

Despite all the obstacles, Obama said the class of 2020 will continue to make him and his wife Michelle Obama proud.

“Michelle and I have made it the mission of our foundation to give young people like you the skills and support to lead in your own communities and to connect you with other young leaders around the country and around the globe,” Obama said. “But the truth is you don’t need us to tell you what to do because in so many ways you’ve already started to lead. Congratulations, class of 2020. Keep making us proud.”

LeBron James to class of 2020: "My message is stay close to home"

LeBron James speaks during "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" on May 16, 2020.

NBA superstar LeBron James told the class of 2020 “do not forget your safety net” of teachers, coaches, pastors, friends and family.

He asked the graduates to “recommit to your community

“Class of 2020, I know the last thing you want to hear right now is stay home. It’s not my message to you. My message is stay close to home. Maybe not physically but in every other way possible,” he said.

James told the class of 2020, “the world has changed. You will determine how we rebuild.” 

Teachers who died during the pandemic honored tonight

Teachers who lost their lives during the coronavirus pandemic were honored during tonight’s graduation special.

“Every graduate touched by them will walk forward, made strong by their wisdom. And the class of 2020 will be their living legacy,” a student said as the teachers’ names were displayed during the special.

In Memoriam for teachers is displayed during "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" on May 16, 2020.

Malala Yousafzai: "I'm also missing my graduation ceremony this year and we're not alone"

Malala Yousafzai speaks during "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" on May 16, 2020.

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai said she, too, was missing her graduation like the class of 2020.

“We’re not alone,” she said.

Yousafzai also called on graduates to remember girls all around the world who “may never return to the classroom because of this crisis.”

Megan Rapinoe asks the class of 2020 to "demand better, together"

Megan Rapinoe speaks during "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" on May 16, 2020.

World Cup champion and US women’s national team soccer player Megan Rapinoe told the class of 2020, “This is your moment and unlike any we have seen before.”

“The cliche would be to ask you to come together. But we aren’t together,” Rapinoe said.

She added: “We’re separated in ways we’ve never experienced.”

“So, I’m not going to ask you to come together. I’m going to ask you to demand better, together.

Kevin Hart remembers his most embarrassing moment in high school

Actor and comedian Kevin Hart reminisced about his most embarrassing moment in high school.

Hart, who was a member of the class of 1997 at George Washington High School in Philadelphia, remembered wearing his brother’s shoes to school, they were too big for him.

“My most embarrassing moment in high school was when I got caught with sneakers on that were too big. I took my brother’s sneakers and wore them to school and they were a size 10 and I was a size 7,” Hart said. “I felt like girls would like guys with big feet. For whatever reason. Use your imagination.”

Zendaya: "Being a senior is so much more than just your senior year"

Zendaya speaks during "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" on May 16, 2020.

Actress Zendaya told the graduating class of 2020 that being a senior was more than just your senior year.

The “Euphoria” actress said it was all about all the moments that led up to their senior year.

“I know how hard you guys are working. What make as senior? Is the traditions like proms and pranks? The start of a new chapter? Thankfully, being a senior is so much more than just your senior year. It’s every moment from day you were born leading up until right now. The tiny ones, the life-changing events add up to make you the class of 2020,” she said during “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020.”

Graduating senior whose father died on 9/11 says he wants to be "successful" like him

Ronald Milam Jr. wasn’t born yet when he lost his father on September 11, 2001. His father and mother were working on opposite sides of the Pentagon that day. His father was killed and Milam was born a couple months later.

Milam said the stories he was told about his father “pushed me to do more in the classroom because I want to succeed. And I heard he was successful in the military. And I want to be successful as well.”

As a high school basketball player, he wore the number 33 — the age his father was when he died. He said he wants to study pre-med at Texas Tech University and eventually become a doctor. 

“We now can take more because we’ve been through a whole lot as a class. Being born during the 9/11 period and graduating through the pandemic. So I feel like we don’t give up that easily,” Milam said.

Former President Bill Clinton to the class of 2020: "You can help keep us together"

Former President Bill Clinton told the class of 2020 that the Covid-19 pandemic “has given you a graduation you will never forget and it’s released you into an uncertain future.”

“I urge you to embrace the challenge. The world needs you. Your country needs you. Even before the outbreak, you knew you were entering a world of growing inequalities, and divisive tribalism, with people pulling away from those who are different from them. Seething resentments and a broken information system have empowered those who for profit and power for themselves, are willing to inflame our worst instincts. It’s put your future, our democracy, and our very planet at risk,” he said.

Clinton told the class of 2020, “I know you’ve been dealt a hard hand, but you can play it well.”

“With a tough but open mind and a caring heart, you can help keep us together,” he added.

Watch more:

Mexican immigrant graduate: "Don't let society limit where you can go"

California teenager Amanda Zetina was only six years old when she came to the United States from Mexico. She said she was separated from her mother for nearly two years. 

This year, she becomes the first in her family to graduate from high school — after coming to the US as a young child only speaking Spanish. 

“My education, like for an immigrant, means so much, and it means like you’re able to create a new change for your future generations,” Zetina said.

When she came to the US, she said she did not speak English and was made to repeat first grade. Next year, she’ll attend UC Davis on scholarship.

“Don’t let society limit where you can go. Like I said, ‘Push yourself. Everything’s up to you,’” Zetina said.  

Henry Winkler: The country will "need everything you can do" when we get back to normal

“Happy Days” star Henry Winkler had some encouraging words to the millions of students whose graduation ceremonies were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a very weird time. Isn’t it? I mean it might be the strangest time in my lifetime and maybe your entire lifetime. But this is what I want you to know, whenever we get back to whatever normal is, this world, this country, your state, your city, is going to need everything you can do. Your energy, your imagination, your tenacity, your emotionality,” Winkler said.

Winkler, who played Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on the iconic ’70s sitcom, went on to describe his own struggles in school. He said he was told he would never achieve.

“Here’s what I learned: none of that matters. What matters is you. What matters is what your gift is, what you’re going to find inside yourself and you’re going to give the world your power. That is the number one thing for you to remember,” Winkler said.

Jason Alexander calls class of 2020 heroes

JsoAlexander named the class of 2020 the “class of the pandemic” filled with heroes that made it to this day.

The “Seinfeld” star said graduating seniors are heroes in the same way health care workers, sanitation workers and mail carriers are heroes.

“In these times, doing the work, really doing the work, to become a high school graduate, that’s heroic .. ‘s character that got you through it. It’s intellect that got you through it. It’s your open mind and eyes and heart that got you through it. It’s your great spirit that got you through it and it’s all those things that are going to get you through successful and happy hopefully all the rest of your days,” Alexander said.

After the pandemic is over and “everything goes back to normal,” he said these students will still be “the one and only extraordinary class of 2020.” 

Amy Schumer's advice to graduates: "Make yourself happy"

Amy Schumer offered some advice to the class of 2020: “Don’t try to make your parents proud of you. Make yourself happy.”

The comedic actress urged the graduating class to “be happy and healthy and live everyday because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow because you don’t.”

“You just learned everything you need to know. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow so you better live today in a way that you’re proud of and a way you can be present for and my other advice would be don’t try to make your parents proud of you. Make yourself happy,” she said.

Keegan-Michael Key references his famous substitute teacher skit

Keegan-Michael Key said he’s proud of everyone in the class of 2020, including “Blakes, Denises, Jaclyns… Aarons, especially the Aarons. To the entire graduating class of 2020, congratulations. Go get em!”

It’s a reference to his famous “Key & Peele” skit where he played a substitute teacher messing up common names.

Watch more:

Alex Rodriguez to 2020 grads: "Don't be afraid to fail"

Former baseball player Alex Rodriguez addressed 2020 graduates during a CNN special and the “strange time ” they are facing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a strange time for all of us. But we will get through it. I know it’s hard now, but this is certainly a year you will never forget. And your education and degree will take you places and help you succeed as the world gets back on its feet,” he said.

Rodriguez said he was incredibly proud of the graduates and dreamed “about being in your shoes my entire life.”

“Now you can go out and accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish, whether it’s in business, or medicine, athletics, art, writing or anything. Go out there and reach for the stars,” he said.

“Most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. You can truly go out and accomplish anything, even if it takes more than one try. It may take 10 tries. And always believe in yourself and never ever give up on your dreams,” Rodriguez said.

Watch the moment:

Gal Gadot tells graduates to trust themselves despite feeling powerless

Hollywood actor Gal Gadot told 2020 graduates that even though the next steps in their lives are unclear and they may feel powerless, they should trust themselves.

“I urge you to think of these words: Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all of your life,” she said.

Watch more:

How to watch tonight's graduation special

The two primetime graduation specials airing on CNN tonight will honor the class of 2020.

The first special, “Class of 2020: In This Together,” will air at 7 p.m. ET on CNN, CNN International and CNN en Español.

“Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020” will air at 8 p.m. ET.

The second special will stream live, without requiring a cable log-in, on CNN.com’s homepage and across mobile devices via CNN’s apps for iOS and Android.

It can also be viewed on CNNgo (at CNN.com/go on your desktop, smartphone, and iPad, and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast and Android TV). The special will also be available on demand to subscribers via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.

LeBron James and President Obama will honor the class of 2020 tonight

CNN will air a two-hour, primetime special honoring the class of 2020, as millions of students across the nation have had their graduating ceremonies canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

CNN’s Erin Burnett, Don Lemon and Jake Tapper will host “Class of 2020: In This Together” at 7 p.m. ET.

The first hour will be produced by CNN and will feature former President Bill Clinton, Amy Schumer, Jason Alexander, Gal Gadot, Jack Gilinsky, Henry Winkler, Alex Rodriguez, Keegan-Michael Key and Anthony Anderson with performances by Yo-Yo Ma, Bazzi and Foster the People.

In the second hour, CNN will broadcast “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” which is hosted by The LeBron James Family Foundation, The Entertainment Industry Foundation, and XQ Institute.

The event will feature former President Barack Obama, LeBron James, the Jonas Brothers, Zendaya, Olivia Wilde, Ben Platt, Megan Rapinoe, Yara Shahidi, Lena Waithe, Pharrell Williams, Malala Yousafzai and more.

The one-hour, commercial-free event will be carried by more than 20 broadcast and cable networks and streaming channels throughout the US. Proceeds will benefit DonorsChoose and America’s Food Fund.

GO DEEPER

Michelle Obama partners with MTV for national virtual prom
Pharrell Williams surprises graduates of Virginia HBCU with virtual commencement speech
A virtual graduation at Oklahoma City University was hacked with racist attacks
Seniors won't have a graduation ceremony, so this South Carolina town put up their portraits along Main Street

GO DEEPER

Michelle Obama partners with MTV for national virtual prom
Pharrell Williams surprises graduates of Virginia HBCU with virtual commencement speech
A virtual graduation at Oklahoma City University was hacked with racist attacks
Seniors won't have a graduation ceremony, so this South Carolina town put up their portraits along Main Street