Donovan Livingston, a member of UNC’s class of 2009, performed the spoken word poem “Lift Off” during his masters graduation ceremony from Harvard Graduate School of Education. Livingston’s poem has gone viral, garnering over 12 million views on Facebook.
Livingston said he is one of the few people who can actually say they were born and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Both of his parents were educators — his mother a retired speech pathologist, his father a retired principal.
“It’s been an honor to be able to follow in their footsteps,” Livingston said.
Livingston said when he toured UNC, he noticed there was a space for spoken word poetry and a desire to explore it was one of the reasons he attended.
“I just wanted to use words to be able to create the images I saw in my head and the things I really believed in the world around me,” Livingston said. “I used poetry as a tool to kind of understand what was going on around in the world, in my community, at home, things like that.”
Livingston said he saw the campus spoken word collective, Ebony Readers/Onyx Theatre (EROT), perform during another UNC visit and was encouraged to develop his spoken word talent and join the group.
“Honestly it was more than just poetry. EROT was one of the few communities I felt like I was taken seriously. I had a struggle in my transition from high school to college,” Livingston said.
During his undergraduate years at UNC, Livingston said he cultivated an interest in helping young people go to college and succeed.
“Looking back on all of the things I did in undergrad, the mentorship opportunities and the service I did, everything really pointed toward college access and college success,” Livingston said.
Livingston is back in North Carolina, earning his Ph. D. in education leadership at UNC Greensboro. He said he is excited to be back in North Carolina to share his work with a new generation of teachers, counselors and students.
“North Carolina is the place that made me who I am,” Livingston said. “And I’d be remiss to do all of this great work elsewhere and not come back and influence the place that made me the educator and the person I am today.”
Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, worked with Livingston in his time at UNC and said he left conversations with Livingston thinking of what a good person he is.
“I just remember talking with Donovan early on,” Farmer said, “Being really impressed by him, by clear intelligence and just by his great commitment and his terrific leadership skills.”
Pambu Kali, a rising junior, said she had heard about the viral video of Livingston’s speech.
“I find it inspiring that people can go from one place and end up an entirely better place and grow and make something of themselves, and be able to express their experiences to others,” Kali said.
During the Harvard v. UNC game during the second round of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Livingston said he pulled for UNC.
“Are you serious? Carolina all day,” Livingston said. “It was funny watching the game like ‘Oh, my old school versus my new school,’ but I’m Carolina through and through.”