Chancelor Jonathan Bennett, known to most as Chance the Rapper or Lil Chano, gave a rousing commencement address to the graduates of Dillard University in New Orleans on Saturday, a not ahistorical speech, charging the graduates to strive to surpass those who came before them.
“The highest form of respect that we can pay to the people who came before us, the people who sacrificed for us and gave us everything, is to be better than them,” Chance said to a smiling crowd.
“Our parents, grandparents, ancestors sacrificed, not so that we can keep doing the same thing that they were doing but so that we can be better,” he added. “To simply copy them would be almost an insult to their sacrifice.”
Chance, who received an honorary doctorate from the HBCU, said that it was his first time attending a college graduation. The institution bestowed the honor on the Chicago native “for his philanthropy and continued service to the youth.”
In inspiring the graduates, Chance drew upon his own world of expertise—entertainment—to drive his points home.
He began by invoking the late, great Michael Jackson, and recalled when he performed “Billie Jean” at his own preschool graduation in 1997.
“Every spin, turn, crotch grab, moonwalk was perfectly executed,” Chance said. “I was pure, 100 percent Michael Jackson in that moment. I copied what he did perfectly.
“Generations of little black kids have been mesmerized before the TV screen or YouTube, watching as Mike seemed to do the impossible. One of those little black kids would grow up to be someone especially amazing,” Chance said. “She would do more than just copy Mike. She would surpass him. And now I’m going to tell you about the greatest performance put on by the greatest performer of all time, and it wasn’t Mike.
“Beyoncé,” Chance announced, amid cheers from the crowd of graduates.
Referencing her widely heralded “Beychella” performance, Chance then offered Yoncé the highest praise: “In real time, in one fell swoop, she eclipsed every Grammy performance, every Super Bowl halftime show, every talent show,” Chance said.
He said that Beyoncé’s performance was “better than any performance Michael Jackson ever did.” He then brought it back to the graduates, saying that he had a realization:
I realized that all of us have a responsibility to be greater than the people who came before us. We have a responsibility to be not as good as them or live up to their example, but to actually surpass them, even when it seems scary. We have to overcome that fear and be greater than our role models. We have to erase the fear and stigma behind eclipsing our heroes.
“With that performance, I realized that greatness can never be stagnant,” Chance continued. “To quote Bruce Lee, we must be like water, adapting to our container, always changing with the times. Living up to your heroes is amazing, but it’s not good enough. The difference between goodness and greatness is going beyond. You have to push forward and surpass their greatness in order to pay homage to their struggle,” he said.
“Beyoncé had Mike. Mike didn’t have Mike. Mike had James Brown. James Brown had Cab Calloway, and so on and so on,” he continued. “Right now, the greatest performer who ever lived might very well be in this audience. And that person has something Beyoncé never had. They got Beyoncé.”