Dear Class of 2020, Here’s What Oprah and Barack Won’t Tell You
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Dear Class of 2020, Here’s What Oprah and Barack Won’t Tell You

Barack Obama and Oprah are great, but…

Thanks to the coronavirus, most graduations have been canceled with no foreseeable replacement date. Some school districts in states like Texas have announced plans for ceremonies that limit students to two guests each — embarrassing both me and Megan Thee Stallion in the process — but those are not really happening. If you don’t believe me, believe the rise in both infection and death rates that is already happening. (If you do happen to receive an invitation to attend a graduation tempting fate, I advise you to respectfully decline and send that graduate a touching note with the money you send them on Cash App.)

Thankfully, for those accepting the severity of the moment and avoiding direct confrontation with potential death, new ways are emerging to celebrate new graduates. On May 15, Facebook will stream #Graduation2020: Facebook and Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020. Clunky-ass title notwithstanding, the event will feature LeBron James, the Jonas Brothers, Bad Bunny, Lil Nas X, a Miley Cyrus performance I certainly didn’t ask for, and a commencement address from Oprah.

If you’d rather relive a time when Americans had a president who could speak in complete sentences, Barack Obama has you covered. First comes “Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition,” a May 16 event for historically Black colleges and universities. Later that same evening, he will deliver the main address at “Graduate Together: High School Class of 2020 Commencement,” and on June 6 he’ll deliver the commencement address in a YouTube event titled “Dear Class of 2020.” (That one will feature Michelle Obama, K-pop group BTS, Lady Gaga, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and some other fancy public figures.)

Schools will be asking many of you to spend mindboggling sums of money to do basically the same shit they talk about in those University of Phoenix commercials. No, this pandemic won’t last forever, but bad credit might.

As far as last-minute backup plans go, this sounds pretty nice. Obama is a gifted orator, an incredibly thoughtful person — 2013 Morehouse commencement speech notwithstanding — and, regardless of how you feel about him, is the best statesman this raggedy country has to offer right about now. Plus, you get Oprah, who is as close to a deity as you’re going to get at your graduation. (Trust me; she spoke at mine.) I hope the students watching her get the resulting boost in credit score karma.

On the other hand, a lot of folks are going to need the kind of advice that can’t be given in a virtual medium. So if you want to hear a debt-saddled millennial living through his second economic crisis — not to mention the various wars and other acts of terror that have happened in my lifetime — I’m here to help your ass.

I won’t pretend to be on the same level as some of the folks mentioned above. To be fair, though, C-SPAN recently put me on the same programming bloc as Condoleezza Rice. If I’m good enough to be compared to someone select folks would consider a war criminal, I’m good enough for you 18- and 22-year-olds (or whatever age and it’s no shade ’cause I ended up needing an extra year).

Dear Class of 2020,

To the millions of Americans who won’t be able to celebrate their varying levels of educational achievement this year because a huckster and punk-ass bitch of a president has made a pandemic even more unbearable, this sentiment may not calm you, but remember it all the same: We all have to die and give someone the opportunity to dance on our graves.

While many of us are suffering on some level, we must try to stay alive. That, more than anything, is the focus right now. Stay alive. In spite of your federal government and one major political party actively trying to kill us off, stay alive. And as you stay alive, try to use this moment to take a realistic outlook on your life and what this world can offer it.

There are many unknowns, but one thing is for certain: debt, as currently structured in this country, is not designed for compassion. If you are a high school student, ask yourself just how much you want to spend on your future. Think of your next choice in education not solely as what’s best for you in the next four years or so, but what’s best for your entire life.

I get it. People want to get away for varying reasons. As much as it was ambition that set my sights on Howard, I also fled Houston in part because I was a gay kid in conflict — and I needed a place to figure my life out away from the chaos and constraints of my mother’s home. I don’t regret going, but I do wish I had found a way other than private student loans: that choice, more than any other, has influenced the rest of my life thus far. Those payment terms are what they are, and what they are is ruthless; if you can avoid such a fate, do so.

Schools will be asking many of you to spend mind-boggling sums of money — tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars — to do basically the same shit they talk about in those University of Phoenix commercials. No, this pandemic won’t last forever, but bad credit might.

If you’re already a college graduate then you know how complicated and anxiety-inducing the reality is:

Still, if you don’t have the money, what are you going to do? Let it wear you down? Allow it to cause you even more grief? I have done this to myself in the most absurd extremities. Don’t take out the angst on yourself. Apply it to messaging Joe Biden and your local elected officials to urge debt reform and solutions — including debt cancellation.

Now, as for jobs, loves: more than 30 million of them vaporized in a month, with no real signs of return. I can’t speak to that, but I know all too well that we are not in control of our fates. Many people will tell you otherwise; they’ll point to favor, or manifesting abundance, as the reason they got ahead instead of the next person. All of that is predicated on the notion that somehow, someway sheer will is all you need to yield a desired outcome.

Yet, here we all are, sitting at home.

We need to accept it: Much of our fate lies in what Donald Trump does between now and when we finally rid ourselves of him. That does not absolve us from choice; I’m not suggesting that we don’t take this time to be proactive if we can. The point is, we can only plan for so much.

If you can be still, be still.

If you can make money, make money.

If you can’t make money, do the best you can and don’t let shame swallow you whole.

Cherish the people in your life. You have no idea if and when you will see them again. As frightening a statement as it is to write, it is another one we must speak in order to best cherish what we have.

I have witnessed so many people being on the same old bullshit — talking about people to make themselves feel good, pretending we aren’t in an economic and medical crisis, acting as if random displays of excess are anything but salt in the wound of those suffering. I’m not perfect here; God knows I have a slick mouth. But I am using this time to find joy and instill joy in others, rather than fixating on behavior that doesn’t speak to the compassion that all of this calls for.

Take it from a 36-year-old who most definitely does not know it all: being kind to yourself and to others is always the way to go. The same can be said for daring to dream and planning accordingly, but that path is subject to the universe’s whims. And if there’s any last nugget I could leave, it is this: If you really want to drop a mixtape, stop wasting time and just do that shit. Feel free to be open to other careers that—like mixtape dropping—can’t be immediately replaced with automation.

Congratulations again, Class of 2020 — we’re all counting on you. Especially those student loan callers lurking behind most of you.