Grammy-winner Common freestyles on greatness


Morgan Gisholt Minard

News Layout Editor

“What are you willing to die for? Live for that.”

This is how Grammy-winning rapper, actor, and activist Common opened up his talk as the third speaker in the Revolution Redefined series on March 24 in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts. Over the duration of his hour-long talk, he emphasized the concept of greatness within every individual and urged the audience to “find your path, believe in your path, and live your path.”

Common’s talk described his childhood growing up in Chicago and how that has led to his ideas of greatness. These ideas of greatness, of believing in one’s self even when others might not think that success is attainable, inspired him to create his Common Ground Foundation, which focuses on providing opportunities for inner-city youth.

His talk kept the audience laughing, from when he free-styled for a full two minutes onstage about being at the University, to his memories of misbehaving in his fifth grade class and being told, “Stop being a bumbling fool; you are greater than that,” to his not-so-fond recollections of walking into a Grammy after-party with nothing but his mother on his arm (as opposed to having multiple Grammys on the other, as his fellow artists and friends Kanye West and John Legend did).

Bringing Revolution Redefined to Campus

Assistant VP of Communications Andy Hirsch commented on the decision made by the Bucknell Forum Task Force to invite Common to the University as part of the Revolution Redefined series. 

“We strive to bring to campus speakers who are relevant, engaging, and thought-provoking–speakers who will challenge the audience members to view issues through a perspective that is perhaps different than their own,” Hirsch said.

Previous Revolution Redefined speakers include Dr. Jane Goodall and actress and LGBTQ activist Laverne Cox.

“[Common] fit into the Revolution Redefined series because he was talking about how there is not just one path to greatness and we can all make meaningful, long-lasting impacts on society if we follow our own path. Common exemplifies this, as did the other speakers in the series, by encouraging us to be who we are, pursue our interests, and be passionate,” Carolyn Hickey ’17 said.

Greatness According to Common

According to Common, the greatest “is the one who serves,” and greatness is “actually being able to reach your highest potential within yourself and because you reach that highest level of potential within yourself, you inspire others to do the same.” Common also referenced several champions of social change such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and placed the tragic story of Emmett Till in context with finding his inner greatness.

Although an article published by the University on Feb. 27 by Heather Johns advertised his talk as a discussion of “a range of topics including race relations in the United States and his efforts to bring about change by empowering underserved children,” Common countered this statement, asserting that his talk would solely focus on achieving greatness.

Hirsch commented on the discrepancy between the Feb. 27 article and Common’s refutation of the topics he would be speaking on.

“The materials used to publicize Common’s appearance, including the article referenced, were approved by his representatives (which is standard practice for most speakers),” Hirsch said.

Common did touch upon these topics in an earlier classroom session; themes including diversity and ways to make change in the University community were discussed, as well as dialogue about the inner-city violence that many students had witnessed and the ways in which working on the film “Selma” had influenced him.

Common said that the students he spoke to “seemed very smart, and passionate about the things that they talked about [in the classroom session].”

Although Common acknowledged that every talk he gives is somewhat tailored to the audience, he believes that his message is “universal, [and] not directed at one nationality or group.” This overall message was that of transcending one’s self in order to be a better human being.

“Greatness is in you and you are greater than even how sometimes you may act,” Common said.

WVIA Public Media recorded the event, and it will air on March 31 at 7 p.m., April 5 at noon and 11 p.m., April 9 at 7 p.m., April 24 at 7 p.m., and April 26 at noon.

Common is the final speaker for the 2014-2015 academic year as part of the Revolution Redefined series.

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