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Why BTS Are Ideal Commencement Speakers

BTS stand out as individuals and are an apt representation of today’s generation.

Image Credit: BTS Official Facebook

The Obamas announced that they will be hosting a virtual graduation for the graduating class of 2020. Dear Class of 2020 is a multi-hour livestream event, created to give graduating students the celebration they deserve. According to Billboard, Michelle Obama’s Higher Reach initiative will host a full hour of content kicking off the celebration.

This virtual graduation will be held on June 6th (Saturday), which can be accessed on the YouTube Originals channel or YouTube’s Learn@Home site. Graduates can sign their names to be part of the event’s Shout Out Board.

The Dear Class of 2020 special will feature speeches on traditional graduation-day themes, as well as musical performances.

BTS were listed as being part of the line-up of commencement speakers, as well as performers for a virtual grad night after-party. The full list of commencement speakers and special guest appearances can be accessed here.

BTS are ideal Commencement Speakers

BTS stand out — not just as individuals — but also as an apt representation of today’s generation. They are ideal commencement speakers because they have always been outspoken on what matters to young people.

During their appearance on the New Yang Nam Show in 2017, j-hope explained the meaning behind BTS: “We’ll block the prejudice and suppression faced by those in their teens and 20’s and protect our value through our music.”

BTS are outspoken on the pressures of the education system

BTS has been outspoken on the pressure the education system places on its youths through songs and other forms of content they share. This can be seen best in their song N.O

RM repeats multiple times on the track: In Seoul to the SKY, would your parents be happy? It was pointed out by an ARMY on the Amino platform, that ‘SKY’ was not referring to what is above us — it was instead referring to the initials of the three top universities in South Korea. It is no secret that acceptance into one of these universities is highly competitive. It is also commonly known that only the best of the best have a remote chance. As a result, as BTS sings, students are pressured to be number one.

Who is it that makes us into study machines? They classify us as either number one or falling behind.

In South Korea, there is a greater emphasis on higher education and elitism. There have been mixed reactions internationally when it comes to the South Korean education system. Though it has been praised for its role in the nation’s economic development and creating one of the world’s most educated workforces, this same system has also been described as “killing the country’s youth”. According to research, this extreme competitiveness has created a number of social problems. Suicide, for instance, is the leading cause of death among teens in Korea. Student surveys have shown that poor grades and the fear of failure are major reasons for suicidal thoughts.

Adults made this frame and we fall into it. Getting into a reputable school and scoring well for exams are presented as the main factors that determine a student’s entire life and worth. Due to the cut-throat nature of success, it comes down to the survival of the fittest. It is this very elitism and pressure that BTS criticises in their school trilogy lyrics.

Adults tell me that hardships are only momentary
To endure a little more, to do it later
Everybody say NO!
It’s not going to work anymore, Don’t be captured in other’s dreams

These lyrics remind me of another old track — No More Dream — which says: Become the subject of your own life, away from suppression. Instead of living the life of a puppet, BTS encourages young people to find their own dream — find their own voice instead of solely being boxed by a system.

Though there is some improvement worldwide when it comes to acknowledging the emotional stress of studies as well mental health of students, more can still be done. We have to acknowledge that there are some who are built to excel at academics, some may have other skills. Though many are making efforts to change this, such as BTS, there is still more work to be done to protect our young people from the crushing pressure of what is deemed to be success.

For the class of 2019, BTS filmed a special video message for high schoolers taking the College Scholastic Ability/College Entrance Exam in Korea. Jin commended students for working hard for so long, saying they can now pour everything they know into their papers. Jimin reminded students to get a good night’s sleep prior to the exam day.

What stood out from this video was Suga’s message:

“Though it is possible you may not do well on the test, be courageous, have faith that you will do well. And as you live, that scholastic test might not be so important in some ways.”

I believe Suga’s response was extremely important, as it provides a more realistic approach towards education. He is not disregarding the importance of studies. In fact, the members of BTS are studying too. The internet has joined Jungkook on his journey from attending his high school entrance ceremony, up till his high school graduation. On VLive, it was shared that Jin graduated from Konkuk University for his major in Theatre and Film. The other members are said to be attending online college, though their majors are not officially confirmed.

Suga reminds us that though education is important, there is more to life than test results or getting into a top school.

During a livestream last year, fans were asking Suga to wish them well for their college entrance exams. After wishing them all the best for great results, he shared:

Even if it turns out that you didn’t do too well on the exam, there’s no need to feel so defeated. It may feel like your world is collapsing when you don’t get the results you want, but that’s not true. That’s not how our lives work.

Education is a big part of our lives, and if we are not careful, it can take over our entire life. Though my education was not in South Korea, I have experienced pressure in completing my post-graduate studies. The notion that everyone has to graduate university in order to do well is deeply ingrained. For some, like me, it is a necessity to practice in my chosen field. But for others, it doesn’t have to be. This knowledge, the notion of having to do well meant that when I was unable to pass my papers in one go, I felt broken. Though it was common knowledge in my course that there are many who would not pass in one go, I was gutted. I questioned if I was ever cut out for my field. I couldn’t face people for a while as I felt so ashamed.

BTS being part of the Commencement Speakers line-up is a great honour — and an important one. Not only do they empathise with the struggles that students face in the education system, but they too are students or have been students themselves. Despite their schedules, they still encourage their audience to keep learning — some members read books on philosophy, psychology, and art and share about them on VLive and Weverse.

BTS are sincere and vulnerable

“All of us were messy and small. We made it. It’s you who made us realise our dream.” — RM, Ending Mentions, The Wings Tour Final, Seoul

When they were asked on how fans worldwide are able to connect with BTS, Jimin answered, “We try to be as sincere as possible.” BTS’ openness in being themselves is another reason why they are apt candidates to be Commencement Speakers.

RM and Suga have been vocal in addressing mental health. In an interview with Naver, RM and Suga shared about dealing with the anxiety and loneliness that comes with success.

In the aftermath of SHINee’s Kim Jong-hyun’s suicide, Suga commented: “I really want to say that everyone in the world is lonely and everyone is sad. I hope we can create an environment where we can ask for help, and say things are hard when they’re hard, and say that we miss someone when we miss them.” RM added that such issues call for greater action: “Every day is stressful for our generation… Adults need to create policies that can facilitate overall social change.”

During the launch of Generation Unlimited, RM took the stage to deliver a speech on the band’s Love Myself campaign with UNICEF, its impact, as well as his own life story. You can watch the full speech here.

I am who I am today, with all my faults. I have come to love myself for who I was, who I am, and who I hope to become.

It is an encouragement, knowing that artists we look up to are open enough to be vulnerable. Artists are people too — they are not perfect and have flaws just like you and I.

I want to hear your voice, and I want to hear your conviction. No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour, gender identity: speak yourself.

This part of RM’s speech felt very inclusive. He acknowledged everyone: whether you are from the other side of the world, a student or a businessman, to how you identify yourself.

The members of BTS are very aware of the impact that they have on young people. RM expressed that hearing testimonies from ARMYs “constantly remind us of our responsibility.” This reminded me of RM’s ending speech during their Wings Tour Final Concert, in which he said:

“If we BTS, our music or show can support you not just for your dream but in your life, if we can cut your pain and sorrow even just a little, if we can help you, that’s enough to prove who we are.”

BTS encourages social awareness and giving back

BTS are outspoken about the struggles that young people go through — and it is no secret that they encourage their audience to be aware of social issues as well. In April this year, Suga tweeted, asking if South Korean ARMYs had voted in the elections and encouraged them to do so if they hadn’t yet.

Change, RM’s collaboration track with Wale, addressed the importance of social activism. There are several other tracks in BTS’ discography that challenges injustice and traditional beliefs.

Though BTS themselves do not make their personal donations known, however, the media often reports on their charitable giving. These reports inspire ARMY, and the broader public, to give as well.

Halsey and BTS have famously collaborated on popular track Boy With Luv. On the Zach Sang Show, she shared about her experience with ARMY: “… They [ARMY] wanted to say thank you to me for something, and they organised something charitable in my name. A part of me was like ‘why isn’t everyone’s fans doing this?’ What a better place this world would be!”

In another article, I have covered in greater detail on how BTS has encouraged ARMYs to do good.

Where do we go from here?

Dear Class of 2020,

You may have had plans before this, or maybe you were just as lost as I am. Either way, it is currently difficult to see what the future looks like.

Instead, I’d like to say congratulations to you for making it this far! I’d like for you to focus on this very moment — to focus on the now. You deserve to celebrate the achievement of finishing this chapter of your life.

You might be thinking, what’s next? What if I am without passion? What if I do not know the way forward?

In a recent livestream, Suga was asked by an ARMY about living with passion. This was his response:

Do we really have to live passionately? Is it really related to happiness? If accomplishing gives happiness to you, you may live passionately, but if you feel happiness from the small things, you don’t have to.

Sometimes, it’s just about the now.

We can bookmark future plans in our heads and make small steps towards them when we can. For now, let’s do our best for each other and stay safe, together.

Special Thanks to Wallea Eaglehawk for her involvement in editing!

Bulletproof publishes curated BTS content and books for discerning fans and curious onlookers. You can find us on Twitter here, and our parent publisher, Revolutionaries, here.

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Lily Low

Lily Low

“No darkness, no season is eternal.” | Writes about mental health, music, current issues, life, poetry, and faith.