The virus has “torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” the former president said. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
Former President Barack Obama delivered a virtual commencement address on Saturday. It was one of his few addresses to a national audience during the outbreak, and he said a leadership void had created a clear mandate for the graduates.
By Audra D. S. Burch and John Eligon
Without the springtime rituals of traditional graduation ceremonies, former President Barack Obama delivered two virtual commencement addresses on Saturday, urging millions of high school and college graduates to fearlessly carve a path and “to seize the initiative” at a time when he says the nation’s leaders have fumbled the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The speeches, aired hours apart, combined the inspirational advice given to graduates — build community, do what is right, be a leader — with pointed criticism of the handling of an outbreak that has killed more than 87,000 Americans and crippled much of the economy.
“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Mr. Obama said in his first address, directed at graduates of historically black colleges and universities. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
Although Mr. Obama did not mention President Trump by name, some saw his comments as criticism of his successor.
“President Trump’s unprecedented coronavirus response has saved lives,” Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said in a statement that cited the administration’s travel restrictions, small business loan program and use of the private sector “to fill the stockpile left depleted by his predecessor.”
In speeches that spoke to social inequities, Mr. Obama said the pandemic was a wake-up call for young adults, showing them the importance of good leadership and that “the old ways of doing things just don’t work.”
“Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy — that’s how little kids think,” he said during a prime time special for high school seniors. “Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way — which is why things are so screwed up. I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others.”
Mr. Obama’s comments were one of his few public addresses to a national audience during the outbreak, and he said a leadership void had created a clear mandate for the graduates: “If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you,” he said.
Mr. Obama’s remarks were billed as commencement speeches, but they also appeared to be an effort to comfort and assure an American public divided by Mr. Trump’s handling of the crisis. The former president also used the occasions to attempt to rally the nation in an election year around values historically championed by Democrats like universal health care, and environmental and economic justice…………..