(CNN) — This was your night, Class of 2020.
Graduates from across the country danced, thanked their teachers and told their stories while celebrities, athletes and even past US presidents honored them.
“You should’ve had a real graduation, I know. You should’ve had an incredible senior year, I know that as well. But you made a sacrifice, and you did it to keep your community safe and healthy,” NBA star LeBron James told graduates during “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020.”
“In behalf of all us, thank you!”
Millions of students could not attend their graduation ceremonies this year because of the coronavirus crisis, but Saturday’s massive virtual graduation events brought them and many others together.
High school seniors in their caps and gowns filled the screen to sing the national anthem. Then, cheerleaders joined Dua Lipa’s performance of “Break My Heart” and more graduates danced in short clips as the Jonas Brothers sang “X” alongside Karol G.
“The virus canceled the rest of our senior year, but that does not define us,” said Mason Whitaker from Ironwood Ridge High School in Oro Valley, Arizona. “We are who we are not because of what happens to us but because of how we respond.”
‘This is your generation’s world to shape,‘ Obama says
Former President Barack Obama delivered a commencement speech focused on how graduates have the power to lead and change their communities.
“If the world is going to get better, it’s going to be up to you,” Obama said.
Like many graduates before, Obama said, the class of 2020 may have overcome illness and economic hardship but also “the added pressures of social media, reports of school shootings and the specter of climate change.” Then, a pandemic shuttered their graduation plans.
This generation is going to have to grow up faster than others, Obama said, and nobody will be able to diminish their experiences.
“Because with so much uncertainty, with everything suddenly up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape,” the former President said.
Graduates in the hourlong special, hosted by The LeBron James Family Foundation, The Entertainment Industry Foundation and XQ Institute, took time to thank their teachers and honor those who died in the pandemic.
The usual stage walks and cap tosses were replaced by messages from Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who is also missing her graduation; World Cup champion and US women’s national team soccer player Megan Rapinoe, singer Bad Bunny and others.
Many more honored graduates in CNN special
Hollywood actor Gal Gadot joined a group of personalities earlier on Saturday for CNN’s special “Class of 2020: In This Together.”
“Anything is possible, and now is your time to start and create your own special story in the world. I’m telling you there is nothing you cannot do if you put your heart and mind and all that you have learned into it,” Gadot told graduates.
During the hourlong special, MLB star-turned-sports broadcaster Alex Rodriguez, actress and comedian Amy Schumer and others tried to motivate graduates and encourage them to not be afraid in the current crisis.
“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,” Rodriguez said. “And your education and degree will take you places and help you succeed as the world gets back on its feet.”
Mark Foster, the lead singer of Foster the People, not only performed a song he wrote during quarantine but gave a special shout-out to his own brother who’s graduating high school.
Former President Bill Clinton told graduates to embrace the changing world as the virus has exacerbated inequalities facing communities of color, including immigrants, who have been among the hardest hit by the health crisis.
“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,” said Clinton.
“With a tough but open mind and a caring heart, you can help keep us together,” he added.