Common — the rapper, actor, author, and activist — spoke last night to a packed Eisenhower Auditorium as part of the Student Programming Association’s Distinguished Speaker Series. He stayed away (mostly) from his musical talents and instead spoke for 45 minutes on the importance of following your passions and believing in yourself. For every inspirational idea, he had an interesting anecdote to demonstrate the idea.
He started his talk off with a freestyle from one word shouted out in the crowd, “power.” He clearly did his research before coming to Penn State, as his freestyle featured a shout out to some infamous State College spots, including East dorms, Wings Over, the Lions Den, Indigo, and College Ave. He ended his freestyle with the theme of his talk, “I came to Penn State to talk about greatness.”
Common defined greatness as “using your gifts to perform at the highest level and by doing so you inspire others to reach their highest potential.” He had a formula for finding the greatness that is inside of everyone: “Find your path, believe in your path and live it.”
He talked about his own path charted by his love of Hip Hop and the gift he was given to have a voice to express himself. Finding his path was discovering his talent in music, but he impressed upon the captive audience that everyone has a gift — a voice inside of them they just need to find.
He demonstrated the importance of “shining your light” with a Marianne Williamson quote made famous by Nelson Mandela: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”
Common said he learned the importance of conviction for your beliefs from watching fellow rapper (and soon-to-be BJC performer) Kanye West during the early listening sessions of his album College Dropout. The conviction Kanye had in his music and his deep beliefs was contagious and inspired Common to realize how important believing in himself was.
“You all know Kanye has no problem believing in himself,” he said. “If you don’t state your greatness then who will.”
The third part of his talk focused on how no one is too big to fail. This point was demonstrated by his anecdote about the 2004 Grammys, when he was nominated for five awards and preemptively wrote three speeches for the night but didn’t win anything.
“Work at the things you want, the things you love, the things you want to achieve, and you will achieve,” Common concluded. “Greatness is in you, you have something great to contribute to the world. I want you to find your path, believe in your path, and live it.”