“My college was…traveling around the world. Life was my teacher.” – Beyoncé Knowles
In an almost perfect way, Beyoncé revitalized my life by dropping her latest critically acclaimed live concert and accompanying album entitled “Homecoming” during the last week of my stay in Rome, Italy. I stayed in last night to watch it, the two-hour film taking me over three hours to finish purely because I kept rewinding, pausing, and taking deep breaths to collect myself. In many ways, some of my emotion stemmed from the fact that soon, I’ll be experiencing my own homecoming. And I have no idea what to expect. My roommate asked me what the first thing I’m going to do when I get home is and honestly, I truly couldn’t answer him.
The title of the film, “Homecoming” is tied to the black tradition of homecoming that can be historically traced back to many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). As a tradition of black celebration, the unrelenting strength of familial and platonic bonds, and black joy, the event is crucial to black familial, cultural, and intellectual tradition. One of the most powerful parts of Bey’s new work is how she weaves in the HBCU experience as a means of giving visibility to black people and black stories. She reveals the power of the HBCU and the historical connections that they have to resistance, revolution, and black joy. While expressing that love, she tells the viewer that “she always dreamt of going to an HBCU,” but instead, college for her was Destiny’s Child—a much more hands-on, interactive educational experience than me and my friends could imagine. In her words, “My college was..traveling around the world. Life was my teacher.” Her awe-inspiring performance and the struggles she went through to get to that moment as the first ever black woman to headline Coachella proves that a myriad of classrooms, textbooks, late-night cramming, and papers are not the only way to learn. Beyoncé’s ability to touch people is indisputable—and college did not teach her that. Traveling around the world did. Life was her teacher.
And so maybe that’s why I got emotional, because the past four months have been me experimenting with that exact, less structured and more abstract classroom. Life. Seeing Beyoncé fearlessly perform a set that she’s developed over a 22-year career with nothing but sweat and determination reminds me that every single moment of the past four months has contributed to the betterment of my personhood. I learned to arrive somewhere with a bag and make do, ask questions, and walk aimlessly. I learned that a lot of places are hyper romanticized—especially when it comes to the actual experiences of queer folk and POC. I have learned to appreciate the smaller things—the streets and nooks that you find when you get lost. What life taught Beyoncé helped her step on a stage that was not intended for her and aggressively and rigorously carve out space for herself, for black women, and for black people. In a similar (and evidently smaller-scale way), my four-month experiment with life reminded me to never relent from doing the same. I have learned to stand up for myself—look someone in the eye whose glare is supposed to make me feel I don’t belong and reassert my own belonging to this space.
So, this is my homecoming, and I’m coming home with a lot of memories, knowledge, and also a lot of relief. For four months, life was my teacher, and I could not be more grateful for it. A presto, Roma!