John Roger Stevens, otherwise known as John Legend, was born on December 28th, 1978 in Springfield, Ohio. Being musically inclined and in a family of people who loved music, he started playing the piano by four. At age seven, he joined their church choir.
Legend was home schooled till he was six years old. He was characteristically brilliant, winning his city’s spelling competition and graduating high school at the top of his class. In his senior year, he was crowned high school prom king.
Graduating early from high school at 16 and being academically prodigal, he had no issues getting into college, and was offered admission into Harvard University, earning scholarships to several other colleges. Despite his numerous options, Legend chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in English and specialized in African American Literature.
He joined the college co-ed Acapella music group called Counterparts, eventually becoming the president and music director. The group made a recording of Joan Osborne’s ‘One of Us, ’ which received accolades and was in a 1998 list of Best of Collegiate a Cappella Compilation CDs. He graduated in the year 1999.
Legend has an interesting history with the University. In an interview, he spoke about his experience at the prestigious ivy league institutions, disclosing that he was always treated as an outsider while in school and citing experiences of racism and prejudice.
He opened up on his racist experiences on campus, explaining that the police would often stop him whenever he got into his car and question him about his belongings.
He also mentioned that his younger cousin, who attended UPenn concurrently, was also experiencing the discrimination. She recalls having the police called on her for “not belonging” in the dorm she was actively living in.
Legend said that he often guided and supported his cousin through these occurrences.
The Daily Pennsylvanian, a popular newspaper, fondly recalls Legend’s time as a student of the University of Pennsylvania, especially his performances and role as the president and musical director of the college Acapella group.
Despite the actions of a few misguided and ignorant individuals, Legend is thankful for his overall enlightening and educative experience at the university. UPenn has continually highlighted his achievements as an alumnus, and in 2014, he gave a commencement speech for the graduating class and even wrote for the school paper under the guest column.
Legend’s experience at The University of Pennsylvania highlights the darker elements of life as a black college student. But it also sheds light on the beauty of mutual learning and love.