Common free-styled his way into the room, and into the hearts of Syracuse University students Tuesday night at Hendricks Chapel with a motivational speech and impromptu raps.
Common asked a member of the audience to choose any word for him to freestyle about. He began a freestyle rap stemming from the word “heaven,” and it somehow evolved to include Otto, Jim Boeheim, Wes Johnson, Acropolis, Marshall Street, and ‘Melo.
He had the audience laughing and engaged with his spontaneous performance, before ending his freestyle with the lyrics that formed the theme of the night.
“I’m rapping for y’all so you can see your greatness,” he said.
Through his words, experiences, and personal revelations, Common sought to inspire audience members to achieve greatness. You can do this by finding your path, believing in your path, living your path, and working hard, he said.
“When you find it, and you believe it, and you live it- I guarantee you- you will achieve your greatness,” he said.
The Grammy Award-winning recording artist, philanthropist and actor was invited to SU by the Student African American Society, and the Muslim Student Association.
Common told the audience that greatness is achieved by overcoming obstacles; by turning “obstacles into possibles.”
He brought the talk to a personal level when he mentioned his former relationship with singer Erykah Badu. He said it didn’t work out because he wasn’t embracing his greatness. He wasn’t able to live out his dreams because he was willing to dim his light to exist in the relationship, he said.
“We should never dim our lights for anyone,” Common said.
His relatable message hit home for many students.
SU student Heaven Johnson, one of the nearly 500 in attendance, said that Common’s words felt personal and honest.
“I was really inspired because he spoke about his personal experience,” Johnson said. “I felt like he was speaking straight to me, and I really admire that advice.”
A group of high school students from Nottingham and Jamesville-Dewitt High Schools also attended.
Sequoia Kemp, a student at Jamesville-Dewitt High School, said she felt both privileged and excited to attend.
“I think that every high school student should be able to hear from a person of that stature, and learn from their mistakes and their progress,” Kemp said.
Common ended the speech with a challenge for the audience:
“My purpose is greater and bigger than me. What’s your purpose?”