Obama said the novel coronavirus pandemic has "more than anything ... fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing."
Obama said that the virus also "just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country.”
Obama did not mention Arbery by name, but said the injustices of the world were seen "when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning."
He called on the graduates to be bold in their vision of the world.
"If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you," Obama said, later adding, "No generation has been better positioned to be warriors of justice and remake the world."
His speech was part of a larger virtual event, titled "Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition." It was a two-hour virtual HBCU commencement program presented by Chase in partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the United Negro College Fund, the National Association for Equal Opportunity, the NBA, Paul Quinn College, Howard University and JPMorgan Chase's Advancing Black Pathways Initiative, according to the former president's office.
Obama applauded the students for choosing to attend an HBCU. He said that while they could have chosen any school in the country, they chose an HBCU to help them "sow seeds of change" and follow in the footsteps of those who "shook the system to its core," such as Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison and Spike Lee.
He offered the class of 2020 three pieces of advice: use your voice in real communities at a grassroots level and not only online, work with allies and be active in leadership.
"So many of us believe in you," Obama said. "I'm so proud of you."
Obama will also address the high school seniors of 2020 in a virtual speech at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday broadcast on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox.