(Screenshot via YouTube)
During the coronavirus pandemic and time of social unrest, addressing a 2020 class of high school graduates has particularly uniquely challenges.
Fortunately for the School District of Philadelphia, two-time Super Bowl champion Malcolm Jenkins is used to pressure.
During a virtual event on Tuesday that featured appearances from Philadelphia stars such as musician Jill Scott and rapper Freeway, Jenkins delivered his virtual keynote speech to 13,000 graduating seniors.
A former Philadelphia Eagles star, Jenkins didn’t miss a beat when sharing his experience as an underdog with a class of high school graduates looking for stability in a quickly changing world.
“When the world told the Philadelphia Eagles we couldn’t win that world championship, we came together as a team, a community, and a family to battle day in and day out,” he said.
Jenkins’ background outside of pro sports as an entrepreneur, activist, philanthropist, writer, filmmaker and fashion designer were in alignment with a theme of his speech: adaptability.
“The global crisis has changed the way companies do business and it has shifted the skills they most find desirable,” he said — “things like learning how to adapt, being flexible in times of change, critical thinking and problem solving and employer-specific skills like coding, graphic design, digital advertising and so much more.”
Like others affected by the spread of COVID-19, students in the Philly school district had to adapt quickly in April when schools were closed and classrooms pivoted to virtual learning.
Jenkins expressed that he empathized with a 2020 graduating class that was not able to enjoy teenage rites of passage like an in-person graduation: “This is an uneasy time in our society with the pandemic and all of the rituals you were looking forward to being taken away, like getting together today for this ceremony,” he said.
Rising Cornell University freshman Tony Xu was the valedictorian of his 2020 graduating class at Montgomery County’s North Penn High School. As a graduation speaker and member of another local class shocked by coronavirus, Xu used his speech to communicate the feelings of loss he shared with his peers.
“As we look out, the world may seem chaotic as even our uncertainty is politicized, but we have the tools to be the citizens of our unknown future,” he said in the video.
Nationwide protests against police brutality and racism in recent weeks have compounded the national unease created by the pandemic. As a former Eagle known for his leadership in the locker room and on the field (and someone who has joined protests in Philadelphia recently), Jenkins was still able to find advantages in this moment.
“What is great about the world we are in right now,” he said, “is that you can start from nothing and create something of value for yourself and the world around you.”
Check out Jenkins’ full speech beginning at the 39:43 mark below:
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