By Stephanie Butzer
Maya Angelou read with passion, humor and wisdom at Elon University’s Fall Convocation. The 84-year-old world-famous woman sat on the stage of the Alumni Gym with a microphone, bookstand and dazzled glasses that scattered the ceiling light at the eager audience.
It is hard to compete with a history like Angelou’s. Before she was 30, Angelou had toured Europe with the production of “Porgy and Bess,” studied dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on a television show and recorded her first album, titled “Calypso Lady.” She was a single mother to her son, Guy.
She had found many rainbows in her skies.
Angelou has traveled the world, mastered five languages and met significant people, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She saw great things in every individual though, and zeroed in on Elon University and its students during her speech.
“God put the rainbows not in the sky, but in the clouds themselves,” Angelou said. “If the rainbow is put into the clouds themselves, in the worst of times, in the dreariest and gloomiest and most threatening of times, there’s a possibility of seeing it open.”
Angelou saw Elon as a rainbow in the clouds. She said it was not always that way because just a few years ago, it was “the school down the street.” However, now that the school and progressed and she had been invited to speak, there was a significant difference.
“I want to have this chance to talk to you about being rainbows in the sky,” Angelou said. “It’s what each of us is.”
She urged each student to create their rainbows in other people’s skies. This power to change somebody’s mood or lift them into the sunlight, even for just a moment, is extraordinary, she said.
The humor even amused her.
One of the rainbows Angelou desperately wanted the audience to see is hidden between the lines of African American poetry. She urged all the students to include this type of literature in their English studies.
Angelou concluded Convocation with “Brave and Startling Truth,” the poem she composed and delivered in honor of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
“When you have an attitude of gratitude you wake up saying thank you,” Angelou said.
The evening ended with a thunderous applause of sincere thanks.