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7.2: “Lift Off” -- Donovan Livingston

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    As you already know, Donovan Livingston’s spoken word poem “Lift Off” was delivered as a convocation address to his peers during Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education commencement ceremony in May of 2016. Through this poem, he sent a powerful message to his audience of future educators about the purpose and nature of education. Before you read the speech, we encourage you to preview the speech by responding to the questions below.

    Before Reading

    Consider and note your thoughts on the following questions before reading the rest of the speech below:

    1.What are your thoughts on the quote from Horace Mann about education?

    2.Describe your academic experience in high school classes. Based on your experiences, what would you say that the purpose of education is?

    3.Why might the author have selected this quote to frame the speech?

    4.Based on the title “Lift Off” and the introductory quote about education, make a prediction about the message of his poem.


    Below is a link to the full text and video, followed by an excerpt from the beginning of Livingston’s speech. We encourage you to read and listen to the full version.



    “Lift Off”

    “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin,

    Is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.” – Horace Mann, 1848.

    1) At the time of his remarks I couldn’t read — couldn’t write.

    2) Any attempt to do so, punishable by death.

    3) For generations we have known of knowledge’s infinite power.

    4) Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keeper of the keys —

    5) The guardians of information.

    6) Unfortunately, I’ve seen more dividing and conquering

    7) In this order of operations — a heinous miscalculation of reality.

    8) For some, the only difference between a classroom and a plantation is time.

    9) How many times must we be made to feel like quotas —

    10) Like tokens in coined phrases? —

    11) “Diversity. Inclusion”

    12) There are days I feel like one, like only —

    13) A lonely blossom in a briar patch of broken promises.

    14) But I’ve always been a thorn in the side of injustice.

    15) Disruptive. Talkative. A distraction.

    16) With a passion that transcends the confines of my consciousness —

    17) Beyond your curriculum, beyond your standards.

    18) I stand here, a manifestation of love and pain,

    19) With veins pumping revolution.

    20) I am the strange fruit that grew too ripe for the poplar tree.

    21) I am a DREAM Act, Dream Deferred incarnate.

    22) I am a movement – an amalgam of memories America would care to forget

    23) My past, alone won’t allow me to sit still.

    24) So my body, like the mind

    25) Cannot be contained.

    26) As educators, rather than raising your voices

    27) Over the rustling of our chains,

    28) Take them off. Un-cuff us.

    29) Unencumbered by the lumbering weight

    30) Of poverty and privilege,

    31) Policy and ignorance.

    32) I was in the 7th grade, when Ms. Parker told me,

    33) “Donovan, we can put your excess energy to good use!”

    34) And she introduced me to the sound of my own voice.

    35) She gave me a stage. A platform.


    After Reading

    1.How would you summarize the vision that Livingston conveys about the role of education in the future?

    2.Compare your prediction about the text with Linvingston’s actual message. What were the similarities and differences?

    3.Take a close look at the language that Livingston used in this speech. What made this text so powerful? Identify specific examples.

    4.How did Livingston position himself in regard to education and language? Can you identify any specific examples of how he accomplished that in his text?

    5.Go back through the speech and highlight all of the words that you think are complex. These words can become the basis for further inquiry. (See “Lift Off Activity”).


    7.2: “Lift Off” -- Donovan Livingston is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.