Press Release

John B. King Jr. joined local officials, national public figures, celebrities, and other special guests to offer a virtual commencement address to graduates of the Boston Public Schools in Massachusetts.

Hello, Boston Public Schools graduates!

Graduating from high school is a significant achievement. To get to this day, you succeeded in challenging coursework and you navigated challenges outside your classrooms.

Some of you balanced after-school jobs with your in-school and family responsibilities. You led clubs and extracurricular activities, and you completed service projects.

On athletic fields, many of you experienced the soaring joy of hard-fought wins and the sting of heartbreaking losses, all while learning invaluable lessons about the importance of teamwork. In school auditoriums and theatres, many of you acted in plays, sang in choirs, and performed in orchestras. In your classrooms and in your communities, you created art. In science and engineering labs, you conducted experiments and, just maybe, invented the next big thing.

And while your school buildings are physically closed now as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is the experience of school that you get to take with you, and that has forever changed you. … The experience of learning and growing as a result of all that you accomplished. … The experience of teachers, school counselors, and mentors who supported you. … The experience of family members and friends who believed in you.

Certainly, these last few months of your senior year haven’t looked like how you envisioned.

Online classes. … A virtual prom. … Quarantine dance parties with your parents in your living room. … Even today’s livestreamed commencement isn’t what you expected.

COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives.

But you already know things don’t always go as planned.

Maybe like me, some folks thought you wouldn’t make it in school. They counted you out.

Well, today, you’ve proven what’s possible.

I can relate.

I was the first U.S. Secretary of Education to have been kicked out of high school. But, I always like to say that I hope I won’t be the last. That’s because I understand the power of education and second, and even third, chances.

You see, I grew up in New York City.

My mom passed away when I was in fourth grade.

Afterward, I lived with my dad, who had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s disease, until he passed away a few years later.

Life was scary then. Home was chaotic. And I was angry. Angry at adults and angry at the world. And yes, I got kicked out of high school. Twice.

But outstanding teachers and a caring school counselor convinced me that my past didn’t need to dictate my future. They helped me understand that I got to decide who I wanted to be and that I had the power to shape how I wanted the world to be.

And that’s the message that I’d like to leave you with today. Even when things don’t go as planned—even in the midst of a global pandemic—you get to decide how you respond.

As for me, I decided to dedicate my career to advancing social justice by working in education.

And you … you’ve already demonstrated grace in the face of adversity. You’ve already shown perseverance by getting to graduation day. Some of you have earned your diploma even as you’ve taken care of sick family members; been deemed an “essential worker;” or helped younger siblings as they’ve been at home, learning online, too.

If you plan on going to college in the fall, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll attend in-person on a leafy green campus. If you’re planning to work while earning a degree, jobs may look different than you anticipated or be a bit harder to come by.

To be sure, COVID-19 has changed things. But the pandemic has also shined a spotlight on so many of our country’s persistent challenges—economic inequality; the digital divide; racial inequities; and disparities in access to healthcare.

Now, as you graduate, you get to decide who you want to be in pursuit of how you want the world to be.

I hope you’ll be the kind of people who choose to take action and organize around issues you care about. I hope you’ll vote. I hope you’ll recognize the importance of building community, and that none of us does great things entirely alone.

I hope you’ll lift others as you climb. And I hope you’ll celebrate and value diversity along the way … Boston Public Schools is home to students from 135 different countries and students speak 70 different languages. If we are going to solve the toughest challenges facing our country and our world—from this pandemic to climate change to ensuring that all students receive an education that sets them up for success, as you all have—we are going to need diverse perspectives and everyone working together.

Class of 2020, you come from a long history of trailblazers. Boston is home to the very first public school in America. And this city has shown the world time and again how to be Boston Strong. I cannot wait to see who you become, and how you change the world.

Congratulations, Boston’s Class of 2020!