Harvard graduate Donovan Livingston’s convocation speech will definitely go down in history as one of the most moving and meaningful graduation moments of all time.
The Master’s of Education student performed a spoken-word poem at Wednesday’s 2016 Convocation Exercises for the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The speech, titled “Lift Off,” describes the difficulties that have historically faced black Americans seeking an education.
“For some, the only difference between a classroom and a plantation is time. How many times must we be made to feel like quotas, like tokens in coined phrases? ‘Diversity. Inclusion,’ ” he said. “There are days I feel like one, like only. A lonely blossom in a briar patch of broken promises. But I’ve always been a thorn int he side of injustice.”
Livingston challenged traditional systems of power and authority in and out of the classroom.
“As educators, rather than raising your voices over the rustling of our chains, take them off. Un-cuff us,” he said. “Unencumbered by the lumbering weight of poverty and privilege, policy and ignorance.”
He also shared his own reasons for becoming an educator.
“I teach in hopes of turning content into rocket ships, tribulations into telescopes. So a child can see their potential from right where they stand,” he said. “An injustice is telling them they are stars without acknowledging night that surrounds them. Injustice is telling them education is the key while you continue to change the locks.”
Livingston finished with an inspiring call to action.
“I belong among the stars. And so do you. And so do they. Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness for generations to come. No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning. Lift off,” he said.
A video of the full speech was posted on the school’s Facebook page on Wednesday. As of Saturday afternoon, it had 8.5 million views and more than 185,000 shares.
Livingston told BuzzFeed that he was grateful for the opportunity to be the student speaker at the graduation ceremony.
“I wanted to be sure I took the time to honor those who made sacrifices for my education,” he said. “What I want people to take away from my words is to appreciate the value in honoring a child’s story and validate their experiences. Because life is our biggest teacher, we should make spaces in education for students’ life lessons to take center stage.”