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Barack Obama, LeBron James, the Jonas Brothers headline nationally simulcast HS ‘Graduate Together’ event on Saturday evening

Tim Newcomb | May 13, 2020

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Former President Barack Obama will deliver a commencement address to graduating seniors nationwide as part of an hour-long multimedia Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 event aired simultaneously Saturday evening by more than 20 broadcast TV and digital streaming partners.

Joining Obama in headlining the event are NBA star and school founder LeBron James, Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, musical acts the Jonas Brothers, Kane Brown, Bad Bunny, Pharrell Williams and H.E.R., and soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe, plus actors, influencers and special guests.

“This high school graduation season will be anything but ordinary, but that’s all the more reason why the Class of 2020 deserves extraordinary advice, heartfelt encouragement and hard-won wisdom about facing new challenges in an uncertain world,” says Russlynn Ali, CEO and co-founder of XQ Institute. “We are grateful to President Obama for giving this gift to our nation’s 3 million high school seniors as they graduate together.”

Originally started by the XQ Institute, a group dedicated to rethinking the high school experience, and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the May 16 event really took shape with the addition in April of the LeBron James Family Foundation. James, who opened the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, in 2018, brought with him his entertainment and content company, SpringHill Entertainment, and Done + Dusted to produce.

The star-studded event will feature a curated multimedia presentation that includes highlights from thousands of student submissions, some featured during the show and others on social media, says Stephanie Germeraad, XQ spokesperson. With the support of the American Federation of Teachers, Graduate Together will include a collection of commencement addresses, celebrity performances and inspirational vignettes. Local television stations will have the flexibility to feature custom segments celebrating the achievements of high school students in their own communities.

The one-hour, commercial-free show will be carried by more than 20 broadcast and cable networks and streaming channels through the United States, including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The event airs at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time and 7 p.m. Central and Mountain Time on May 16.

“It has been remarkable to watch these young people, in the face of unprecedented challenge, demonstrate courage and resilience beyond their years,” Ali says. “In doing so, they have given every American reason to feel hopeful about our future.”

Said James in a statement, “We learned early on in our work with students and families in Akron that education is so much more than academics. It’s about a shared experience, a journey we’re all on together — students, parents, educators, community members and everyone around them. With that not being possible right now, we’ve been working to find ways to help families get through this really difficult time.”

XQ hopes to create a larger focus on education and the Class of 2020 with the Graduate Together event, using a social media campaign around the #GraduateTogether hashtag to build a virtual watch party. XQ will also produce a Graduate Together yearbook with artist JR and his Inside Out art project. Snapchat will feature a special #GraduateTogether lens.

“These students have worked incredibly hard for this, and there’s no way we can let that go unrecognized,” James said. “While this won’t be the graduation experience they were supposed to get, we hope we can still give them something special because they deserve it.”

Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama will also take part in a Show Me Your Walk: HBCU Edition virtual commencement ceremony earlier in the day May 16 and in a YouTube virtual graduation June 6.

This article was published in partnership with The 74. Sign up for The 74’s newsletter here.

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