English 1A

An Argument of Education Reform: Donovan Livingston “Lift off”

All are born equipped in genius to be standardized by institutions. The curriculum awakened the authentic voice of Donovan...

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All are born equipped in genius to be standardized by institutions. The curriculum awakened the authentic voice of Donovan Livingston, “with a passion that transcends the confines of my consciousness-“(18). He thrived in a system historically not designed for African Americans. In May of 2016, Livingston delivered his spoken word poem, “Lift off” to audience members at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Convocation Exercises. The argument of this poetic speech encourages a revolution of Educators to reform the education system through valuing student expression. Livingston argues logically of education reform by appealing to his credibility and then his audience’s passion for education.

Several factors of Livingston’s context prompt the piece to be significant. First, Livingston’s speech is addressed to 2,200 audience members of gathered friends, family, faculty, staff, alumni, and fellow graduates’ of the class of 2016. His mannerisms compel the audience to contribute in the participatory culture of slam poetry. He identities the moment with gratitude to fellow graduates and educators that sacrificed for his voice. Secondly, Livingston risks identifying education in the negative to an audience of educators.  This is an argument he incorporates with a positive perspective that reveals systematic change. Finally, the performance went viral overnight as the world received his message. Livingston shared a part of himself to a wider audience, including a High School English teacher, whom prevented poetry in his senior year commencement remarks. The negative surroundings that motivated Livingston to implement a poem into the graduation speech became witness to his accomplishments.

Livingston’s core argument identifies the Education System’s inequalities. He begins by hooking his audience with an informative quotation that associates to an educator’s studies. In the words of Horace Mann 1848: “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men”(1-2). Livingston appeals to logic by citing an educational reformer, whose work revolutionized educational institutions in the early 1800’s. Subsequently, Livingston filters his audience expectations with his argument on the Educational System. While his opening remarks compliment the educators to “The guardians of information”(7), he integrates opposition “Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keepers”(5). His introduction significantly terms Educators with the responsibility of distributing information. The incorporation of “we” supports his logic with credibility, thus directing the attention to the vast community of educators and students alike. Livingston attempts to reveal the community as advocates not of present Education methods. In ending statements, the speech reiterates Livingston’s introduction to emphasize his proposition. He symbolically informs, “Injustice is telling them education is the key/while you continue to change the locks. (69-70) Evidently, Livingston titles the Educational system as injustice and then directly integrates “you” to expose truth, implying the system regulates opportunity to a limited selection. In addition he refutes, “Education is no equalizer-“ (71). He includes the rhetorical device to denounce his sources argument. Overall, the tone of Livingston’s piece echo’s a passive pain to injustice.

Livingston speaks rhythmic volumes of intelligence on racial injustice, which achieves credential expertise on the topic. He first claims credibility in front of the Harvard graduate audience by addressing this moment of achievement “I stand here, a manifestation of love and pain”(20). In addition, he strongly identifies himself as a victim of present racial inequalities, as “a lonely blossom” and a “thorn in the side of injustice”(15, 16). Livingston refers to himself as an incarnate of Langston Hughes, an African American poet in the 1900’s, whose ancestry experienced slavery. He admits “I am a DREAM Act, Dream deferred incarnate. / I am a movement- an amalgam of memories America would care to forget,” proving his extensive education on African American history (23-24). Notably, he skillfully connects himself to these ideologies that intentionally incorporated a beneficial message. While the legislative act implemented a pathway for qualified minorities to education and other essential recourses, the poem warns of the burden to neglect a dream. He purposefully embodies stigmatized history and written documents to imply his activist equipped identity. Evidently, Livingston pursues his purpose while simultaneously fulfilling it. Livingston uses ethos to prove his credibility to the audience, as well his success in a system not accepting of Black Americans.

Livingston creates an emotional argument for educational reform by empowering Educators to foster a student’s potential. He reveals the methods of education as the “sleep that precedes the American Dream,” advocating Educators to “wake up — wake up! Lift your voices” to the hindrance reality of standardizing future intelligence (72, 73). His figurative language connects his audience to a bigger idea: “Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky. /Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential”(74-75). The tone persuades educators to revolutionize the educational system by nurturing the diverse possibilities of students. Livingston makes a strong argument of educational inequalities by developing pathos using his audience’s passion for education.

The poem’s device use of extended metaphor illustrates a dramatic astrological image that resonates with the audience interpretation of Education. Livingston establishes evidential devices that support his credibility and motivates his audience for educational reform. Furthermore, the Internet witnessed his speech, aiding his message distribution and innovating the world. Donavan Livingston has captivated the nation, emerging as an inspiration to the multitude with reference as one of the greatest graduation speeches of all time. His argument for education reform is a logical movement persuading authentic voices.




Works Cited

Livingston, Donovan. “Lift Off.” Harvard Graduate School of Education, 25 May 2016, http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/16/05/lift.





Written by Kaitlin Peters
Student-Athlete (Women's Swimming) at Ventura college. Profile

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