Legend Has It

More than 1,000 students turned out to hear popular Grammy Award winner John Legend talk about education and community engagement.


USF students waited in line to see Grammy Award winner John Legend.  Photos: Laura Kneski | USF News


By Laura Kneski

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (April 12, 2013) – Education is a common topic on college campuses, but it is not usually emphasized in person by an internationally recognized figure.


Nine-time Grammy Award winner John Legend attracted more than 1,000 University of South Florida students this past Tuesday when he came to campus. Invited by the University Lecture Series, he relayed the importance of community engagement and education.


Not only that, but he had the crowd proudly singing along when he closed his lecture on piano, performing some of his songs such as “Ordinary People” and “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)”.


According to Legend, 10 percent of U.S. schools produce 40 percent of the country’s high school dropouts. This means that poor education is concentrated within certain communities – primarily low income areas.


Legend related the “difficult and expensive” gift of an education to the notion of equality: some people are simply born into it more privileged than others.


“Without an education, doors remain closed, opportunities are limited, and options just aren’t there. Lack of education often seals the fate of those trapped in the cycle of poverty,” he said.


However, Legend emphasized that a lack of an education does not have to pave the rest of a person’s life, contrary to popular belief.


That is why Legend is on the board for Teach For America, which recruits top American college graduates to teach in some of America’s “most challenged urban and rural school districts.” Legend said that part of the reason that some teachers may not do their best is because of the simple satisfactory/unsatisfactory rating system that cannot actually allow teachers to improve themselves and their students.


For, if only 1 percent of teachers are rated unsatisfactory, then why is the U.S. ranked 18th in comparison to other high school graduation rates across the globe?


Legend also sits on the boards for Stand for Children and the Harlem Village Academies. The latter organization has proven that techniques such as longer school days and a culture of high expectations from staff and students can “disarm the lie that demography is destiny.”


By eighth grade, 100 percent of the students in the Harlem Village Academies program have scored sufficiently on state math exams. The average pass rate for the rest of Harlem eighth graders is 43 percent.


Legend has had much experience within the field of social involvement. He has been recognized on several occasions for his efforts, receiving honors such as the 2009 CARE Humanitarian Award for Global Change and the 2010 BET Humanitarian of the Year Award.


He founded the Show Me Campaign in 2007 after visiting Africa. Legend said that while his family didn’t have much growing up, the trip was the first time that he had seen what it was like to live on only a dollar a day.


“Take a look at your extra curricular activities, your summers, your vote, your voice, even the way you use social media, and consider applying some fraction of that for a good cause.”


Legend’s parents never went to college themselves, but saw the sky as the limit for their children. Legend graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English.

While Legend’s passion for making a lasting impact on the world resonated through his words, he was still more than willing to talk about his music career. Students were given the opportunity to ask him questions regarding the events in his life that have impacted him the most, and the obstacles that he faced before he solidified his career.


The audience gave “aww”s when Legend credited his grandmother’s organ playing in their Pentecostal Church for his early passion for music. However, gasps of envy and shock could be heard as he told the story of his roommate’s cousin. The man was an aspiring music producer, dreaming to make it big some day, and he went by the name of Kanye West.


Over a decade later, the duo’s goal is still “to create something beautiful. We’re not chasing hits, we’re chasing beauty.”


Every record label that he went to, including the one that he works with now, Sony Music, turned down Legend. He had spent from 1998 to 2004 seriously pursuing a music contract, but he believes that he understands why he didn’t receive automatic acceptance.


“When you think you’re ready: one, you might not be ready, and two, you have to keep going. You have to persevere if you want to do anything in life no matter what it is.”


Junior Chris Devera, an aspiring singer and songwriter, came out of the lecture nearing the point of speechless.


“Honestly, it’s lit a fire under me, and I just want to get out and go for what I’m dreaming of even more,” he said.


There were smiles on faces from the moment that Legend entered the room until his last note. He reinforced in attendee’s minds that they have unlimited potential and over 60 years to continue to grow. The future is not fixed, and everyone has the ability to create something beautiful.


John Legend’s newest album, “Love in the Future”, will be available June 25.