Lift Off

From the Classroom to the Stars

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An inspirational rallying call about education, race, and the true nature of equality—the Harvard Graduate School of Education convocation speech praised as “powerful” by Hillary Rodham Clinton in Teen Vogue and “inspired” by Justin Timberlake.

In emotionally charged spoken-word poetry, Livingston shares a message of hope and hard truths, declaring that education can become an equalizer only if we first acknowledge the inequality and racial divides holding back America’s future. Livingston is dedicated to helping young people reach their celestial potential, and in his galvanizing commencement address, now adapted for the first time to the page, he calls on us to raise our voices on behalf of all children, as their brighter futures can light up our own. Together, we can lift off!

Praise for Donovan Livingston

“Donovan Livingston gave a powerful speech at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s convocation. In a spoken-word poem, he shared his struggles in life and urged his fellow graduates to fight inequality and inspire students. . . . Donovan’s message hit home. . . . [He is] part of a rising generation that’s . . . standing up to some of the biggest challenges in the world today.”—Hillary Rodham Clinton, Teen Vogue

“These are the words, and Donovan Livingston’s voice and spirit are the music, but in any form, this rare graduation speech tells us that learning is full of bias yet can lead us to the stars.”—Gloria Steinem

“Donovan Livingston’s Lift Off is our youth’s gift to us. In this joyous young man’s voice is the promise of tomorrow.”—James McBride

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Lift Off

Donovan Livingston was chosen by his peers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to deliver the convocation address at their graduation ceremony on May 25, 2016. As soon as he began speaking, the rest of the world understood why: the power of his message, the preciseness of his spoken words, the clarity of his belief in both the educators who lead our schools and the students who will become our future leaders. In that moment, hearing those words, we understood our shared cause in the importance of education as a path toward equality.
As soon as the speech was posted online, it went viral. By the end of the first week, more than thirteen million people had seen what the audience in Harvard experienced that afternoon. That was how I first came to hear his words. And I have not been the same since.
I related to Donovan’s struggles; in my own world, growing up in Baltimore, I’d understood the importance of higher education, but the road map for how to accomplish my goals had been unclear. I feared that I didn’t belong, and even as I progressed through academia, I believed that I was less than worthy, that my presence in university halls felt more like a social experiment than a birthright. After I graduated from Johns Hopkins and Oxford University, I realized that it wasn’t the coursework that had been the greatest challenge but overcoming impostor syndrome and breaking through the psychology of impossible excellence, the notion that some unachievable bar of perfection existed, one that would always be too high for me to reach.
On the other side of those experiences, I now give back, working in education and running a platform called BridgeEdU. At Bridge we address the college-completion crisis by reinventing the freshman year of college. I see, every day, the trials so many students face as they try to make sense of a journey that for some requires wading through uncharted waters, since many of our students are the first in their families to go to college.
We need our students to win, but I am not naïve about the challenges ahead. I understand how difficult it is to make our educational system more accessible and to make completion more attainable for all students. In the end, like Donovan, we are committed to encouraging the spark in every student, and his speech reminds us why we do this work.
Though Donovan’s words have already been shared around the world, I celebrate him and cherish his contributions not for his celebrity but for his sincerity. That’s how he uses his gift to remind others of their own. That’s how he reminds our teachers how to fight, and our students that they are worth fighting for. Donovan makes us feel ever powerful, and the truth is, we are.
Many have wondered where Donovan will end up, what he will do next. I can tell you that from what he has shared with us already, he will never be forgotten. I am sure you will find his words as timeless and inspiring as I did.

- About the author -

Donovan Livingston is available for select readings and lectures. To inquire about a possible appearance, please contact Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau at or visit

More from Donovan Livingston

Lift Off

From the Classroom to the Stars


Lift Off

— Published by Spiegel & Grau —