A Harvard graduate’s commencement speech is impacting far more people than just those who received their diplomas alongside him on Wednesday.
Donovan Livingston, who received his master’s of education, addressed his fellow classmates with a spoken-word poem about the historic obstacles that have prevented African Americans from getting an education — and how a new generation of educators can overcome those that remain.
“For generations we have known of knowledge’s infinite power,” Livingston said at Harvard Graduate School of Education’s convocation ceremony. “Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keeper of the keys — the guardians of information.”
Livingston, who also spoke at his high school graduation, said he was prohibited from sharing a poem as part of that address. But Harvard openly embraced the idea, calling Livingston’s address “one of the most powerful, heartfelt student speeches you will ever hear!” and sharing it to the Graduate School of Education’s Facebook page.
“I came to address you in the best way I knew how,” he began. “I am eternally grateful for being able to share this piece of myself, my most authentic voice, with you this afternoon.”
By Thursday afternoon, the video had garnered more than 2 million views and had been shared nearly 60,000 times.
Livingston’s poem touched on the history of racism and its role in education, noting that slaves could be punished by death for attempts to learn to read or write. Even with those days long in the past, Livingston emphasized how current students’ experiences have been influenced by that legacy.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen more dividing and conquering in this order of operations — a heinous miscalculation of reality,” he said. “For some, the only difference between a classroom and a plantation is time.”
The address encouraged the fellow future educators to see the individual potential of each student rather than deferring to standardized tests and strictly traditional education methods.
“At the core, none of us were meant to be common,” Livingston said. “We were born to be comets, darting across space and time — leaving our mark as we crash into everything.”
Livingston’s speech earned him deafening applause from the audience and a standing ovation from faculty onstage.
“Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness for generations to come,” he said. “No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning. Lift off.”
Read the full text of Livingston’s speech here.