Bill Clinton surprises high school graduates during pandemic

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Although high school seniors are largely missing out on traditional graduation ceremonies because of the coronavirus pandemic this spring, the virtual sendoff for some Little Rock high schoolers will include some words of encouragement from a former president.

Bill Clinton, who served as Arkansas governor for 12 years before he was elected president, recorded speeches for the graduation classes at J.A. Fair, Parkview Magnet, Hall, John L. McClellan and Central high schools, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. He encouraged them to look toward the future with optimism and said the COVID-19 outbreak has reinforced the importance of people unifying despite tough circumstances.

“We need each other, when there is a challenge, run toward it, don’t run away from it.” he told Fair High's graduates, whose ceremony was the first broadcast on various websites and platforms Tuesday night. The initial showing of the Hall graduation followed Fair's ceremony.

Clinton, who videotaped the speech from his home in New York, acknowledged that the school's 2020 graduation would be “bittersweet" since it's closing at the end of the school year to form a new high school with McClellan.

“I know this ceremony is not what you expected today but .... one thing about this commencement you will never forget it. But it doesn’t diminish what has happened before and what you can look forward to,” Clinton said, “So hold your head high today. Be proud of what you have done. Make the most of the rest of your lives.”

Arkansas high schools and others across the country have pivoted to virtual commencements this year instead of traditional venues such as arenas, auditoriums, gymnasiums and stadiums to combat the pandemic and adhere to strict limits on the size of public gatherings.

Mike Poore, superintendent of the Little Rock School District, had said for several weeks that surprise guests would make an appearance.

The Little Rock graduation ceremonies will be broadcast later on the district's educational cable channels and feature photos of the new graduates, pre-recorded music and speeches.

The Parkview online commencement will take Wednesday afternoon followed by McClellan's ceremony. The Central High graduation is set for Thursday.

During each broadcast, the city of Little Rock will illuminate the Arkansas River bridges in the school’s colors.

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