Alumnus Shares Passion for Access in Harvard Graduation Speech

Donovan Livingston ’09 has a passion for college access that was evident during his four years as a history student at Carolina.

Seven years after leaving Chapel Hill, that same passion led to a moving speech at the Harvard School of Education student commencement in May. Livingston’s speech, focusing on diversity and education, reached more than 11 million YouTube views in less than a week. His speech is written as a poem and includes these lines:

I was in the 7th grade, when Ms. Parker told me,
“Donovan, we can put your excess energy to good use!”
And she introduced me to the sound of my own voice.
She gave me a stage. A platform.
She told me that our stories are ladders
That make it easier for us to touch the stars.
So climb and grab them.
Keep climbing. Grab them.
Spill your emotions in the big dipper and pour out your soul.
Light up the world with your luminous allure.

To educate requires Galileo-like patience.
Today, when I look my students in the eyes, all I see are constellations.
If you take the time to connect the dots,
You can plot the true shape of their genius —
Shining in their darkest hour.

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.
I see them. Beneath their masks and mischief,
Exists an authentic frustration;
An enslavement to your standardized assessments.

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.

It concludes with these lines:

Education is no equalizer —
Rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American Dream.
So wake up — wake up! Lift your voices
Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky.
Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential.
I’ve been a Black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Lift off.

At UNC, Livingston was vice president of Xi Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and a staff member of Project Uplift, which introduces the college experience to high school students. After graduation, he worked with the Carolina College Advising Corps as a college adviser at Dudley High School and Ben L. Smith High School in Greensboro.

Having earned his master of education degree in teaching, he plans to enroll in a doctorate program at UNC-Greensboro this fall.

His speech is available online, both as a video on YouTube and as a written transcript.


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