Recently, one of the speakers at Harvard University’s commencement exercises caused a nationwide sensation…
A young African-American man from North Carolina named Donovan Livingston, who was receiving his masters degree from the School of Education, recited a “word poem” known as “Lift Off!”
In this address, Livingston spoke of the liberating potential of education. The reaction online, where both a live clip of his remarks, as well as its text,were posted on numerous websites, was overwhelming.
CNN called it, “one of the most moving and meaningful graduation moments of all times.” Harvard’s own website described it as, “One of the most powerful heartfelt speeches you will ever hear.”
The story went viral with hundreds of thousands of hits. The comments on the various sites where the video of his speech was posted were overwhelmingly favorable. Many said Livingston was destined to be president, so forceful was his rhetoric.
I read his speech with great interest and watched the video.
And to me, the content seemed commonplace for the genre;
“We were born to be comets!” – “I belong among the stars. And so do you.” – “ I teach of turning content into rocket ships – tribulations into telescopes” – “Together we can inspire galaxies of greatness for generations to come.” – “No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning. Lift off.”
I was puzzled by the rapturous response to this collection of platitudes of the “Follow that Dream!” variety, which are standard issue for graduation speeches. Even the usual fawning attitude by white liberals towards blacks couldn’t account for the enthusiasm it was met with.
I studied the remarks more closely and the reason became obvious. Continue reading