Donovan Livingston’s Harvard Graduate School of Education Student Speech

Donovan Livingston, a graduate of Harvard‘s Graduate School of Education, delivered a commencement speech for the ages on Wednesday. It was so good that Harvard referred to it as “one of the most powerful, heartfelt student speeches you will ever hear” when they posted it on Facebook. And for great reason. Livingston gave his speech in the form of a stirring five-minute spoken word poem, where he addressed racism and education.

Titled “Lift Off,” Livingston’s poem spoke to his own experience with education, the students he teaches, and the United States’ history of systemic racism in education. During an early portion of the poem, he said:

Unfortunately, I’ve seen more dividing and conquering
In this order of operations — a heinous miscalculation of reality.
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”
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 in the side of injustice.

While addressing the racism present in schools across the country, Livingston said:

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 here —
An indelible impact that shook up the world.
Are we not astronomers — looking for the next shooting star?
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.
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.

And while tweeting about his speech later, Livingston wrote that he was “grateful to be able to speak my truth, in a place that wasn’t historically meant for me to thrive”:

Livingston graduated with a Masters of Education from Harvard, and his speech has gone viral. On the Harvard Graduate School of Business’ Facebook page alone, the video has been viewed more than 1.4 million times.


c/o complex

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