A lot of graduation speeches inspire and move their audiences, but Harvard Graduate School of Education grad Donovan Livingston takes things to a whole new level. His speech, which was delivered as a spoken-word poem, critiqued racial injustice in the education system.
Livingston began with a quote from Horace Mann: “Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.”
But he refutes this statement, saying that during Mann’s lifetime, African American people were persecuted for learning to read and write and that injustice hasn’t entirely faded. “For some, the only difference between a classroom and a plantation is time,” he said. “How many times must we be made to feel like quotas, like tokens in coined phrases: Diversity and inclusion.”
Livingston reflected on his own schooling, saying, “I’ve always been a thorn in the side of injustice: Disruptive, talkative, a distraction with a passion that transcends the confines of my own consciousness, beyond your curriculum, beyond your standards.” He said that when he was younger, his teacher taught him that “our stories are the ladders that make it easier for us to touch the stars, so climb and grab them.” And that’s what he pledges to pass on to his students.
Livingston says being a teacher reminds him that each person is meant to have a massive impact: “At the core, none of us were meant to be common, we were born to be comets, darting across space and time, leaving our mark as we crash into everything. A crater is a reminder that something amazing happened right here, an indelible impact that shook up the world—are we not astronomers searching for the next shooting star?”
However, he relates this idea back to Mann’s quote about education, saying, “injustice is telling [students] they are stars without acknowledging the night that surrounds them. Injustice is telling them education is the key while you continue to change the locks. Education is no equalizer: rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American dream, so wake up.”
“I’ve been the black hole in the classroom for far to long, absorbing everything without allowing my light to escape,” Livingston said. “But those days are done, I belong among the stars and so do you, and so do they.”
After being met with thunderous applause and overwhelming support on social media (Harvard’s <a href="
” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Facebook post about the speech has already been shared more than 52,000 times), Livingston told BuzzFeed News that he hopes his message resonates. “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.”
Watch the full speech below, and read more about it at BuzzFeed.com:
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