Donovan Livingston graduated from the Harvard School of Education on Thursday — but the day before, as part of the graduate school's convocation, he performed a powerful spoken-word poem about his role as a Black man, a student and now an educator.
He began by reflecting on America's history of oppressing black people by denying them education.
"'Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin/ Is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.' — Horace Mann, 1848/ At the time of his remarks I couldn't read — couldn't write/ Any attempt to do so, punishable by death."
His speech tied the past to the contemporary, referencing Billie Holiday and Langston Hughes in the same breath as the DREAM Act:
"I stand here, a manifestation of love and pain/ With veins pumping revolution/ I am the strange fruit that grew too ripe for the poplar tree/ I am a DREAM Act, Dream Deferred incarnate/ I am a movement — an amalgam of memories America would care to forget/ My past, alone won't allow me to sit still."
Livingston's speech recalled educators who had made an impact on him as a child before turning to his own students.
"I look each of my students in the eyes/ And see the same light that aligned Orion's Belt/ And the pyramids of Giza/ I see the same twinkle/ That guided Harriet to freedom."
Livingston also called on his fellow educators to teach students about inequality while at the same time, lifting them up.
"An injustice is telling them they are stars/ Without acknowledging night that surrounds them," he said. "Injustice is telling them education is the key/ While you continue to change the locks."
But he ended a speech with a message of hope: "I belong among the stars/ And so do you/ And so do they ... No, sky is not the limit/ It is only the beginning/ Lift off."
Donovan received a standing ovation — and deservedly so.
See the entire speech below (and read the full text here):