The education system in this country is broken, Grammy Award-winning artist John Legend said.
Legend shared his thoughts on education and civic engagement in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Ballroom on Tuesday evening. Legend’s speech was the final University Lecture Series event of the semester and one of the most anticipated events of USF Week.
More than 1,100 fans lined up as early as seven hours in advance for the event, titled “An Evening with John Legend,” filling the MSC Ballroom to capacity and leaving roughly 200 students to view the event via live stream in the Oval Theater.
Legend began his speech by discussing his own high school education and the low graduation rates he saw in his own class. He went on to talk about the problems in the education system of the U.S. as a whole.
“To put it bluntly, the education system in the U.S. is broken,” he said. “Many of our schools are figuratively and literally crumbling and we are not giving our children the chance to succeed.”
Throughout his speech, Legend frequently returned to the subject of the school experiences of disadvantaged youth in America and how it limits opportunity.
“You can say that all people are created equal, but if you have severe educational disparities, you have communities and schools crumbling in some neighborhoods and gleaming in others,” Legend said. “There’s no way we can say people have an equal shot at the American dream.”
In addition to education, Legend shared his own experiences with civic engagement, including his work with the Show Me Campaign. He encouraged students to volunteer their time and effort to something they care about.
“There is a lot of opportunity for you to make change,” Legend said. “I hope each and every one of you goes out into the world with a mission for good. Use your education to search for truth and speak it, even when it’s not convenient. …Think about how you want to make a change in the world.”
Legend’s speech was followed by a brief question-and-answer session in which he shared everything from his life influences to his funniest fan interactions. Legend went on to perform five of his songs, including a song that will be on his new record entitled “Who Do We Think We Are.”
Many of the students left the evening entertained by Legend’s performance and inspired by his words.
“I came because I was a big fan of John Legend and his music, but I think his topic was also informative and he really inspired us to better ourselves and do something we love and I liked that too,” Alie Haynes, a sophomore majoring in pre-nursing, said.
Even students watching the live-stream from the Oval Theater said they were able to take away something from the event.
Jasmyn Dollard, a USF alumna with a degree in elementary education, said though she wasn’t able to be in the room with Legend, she was still able to get his message across.
“I loved how he took the time to actually answer the questions and I felt like he really related to us,” Dollard said. “Being in the Oval Theater, I didn’t really get to see his face or anything, but I think I was able to get somewhat of the same experience out of the evening.”
The subject of education is one that Legend said helped him realize his own potential.
“I can’t forget to mention the amazing teachers I’ve had that have been influential in my own life and who taught me I could write,” Legend said.