Livingston told ABC News that the "true inspiration behind the piece" was the fact that he couldn’t perform a poem when he gave his commencement remarks during his senior year of high school.
"The teacher who was in charge...threatened to take me offstage or cut my microphone when she caught wind that I wanted to incorporate a poem," he recalled. "She wanted it to be traditional. So I complied, but I really wanted to address my class in my most authentic voice, which is what I said onstage Wednesday."
Livingston told his fellow classmates in part:
"I’ve been a black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light to escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
So no, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
The speech has been seen by more than 5 million people and was even shared by Justin Timberlake and Hillary Clinton.
Livingston -- who hopes to become a faculty member or an administrator at a university one day -- said he did not expect to get a standing ovation, nor did he expect the speech to go viral.
It makes sense for the son of two educators: His father is a retired principal and his mother is a speech pathologist, working with special needs students.
"I’ve always been around education, but I didn’t know it was something I was really passionate about until I got to college and looked around and saw ... that everything I did catered to college access [and] college success. It felt natural," the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, resident said. "I’m just really happy to carry on the legacy of my mother and father and I’m just grateful to walk in their footsteps."