Maya Angelou spoke at my college graduation in 1998. I was much too young (read: starving and ready to get a real job) to appreciate her speech, her presence. It’s always bothered me that I “wasn’t listening closely enough” then. I have followed her and read her works since that time, though. I was able to find an article about her commencement speech (Savannah Morning News). So, at least I have these words from that day to appreciate almost exactly 16 years later.
…Standing at the podium, Angelou belted out a few choruses from “When the Saints Go Marching In,” comparing the graduates who walked two-by-two down the aisles moments before to saints.
“Congratulations, saints,” she said, applauding them.
The author of such books as “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and “Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now,” received three standing ovations from an audience who listened closely to her every word.
She spoke of the importance of knowing the sacrifices that have been made for each of us by our ancestors.
“Every person in this auditorium, this building, has already been paid for,” she said. “Someone has marched in for you.”
She spoke of looking inside oneself to find the contributions one can make to others in life.
“All you have to do is recognize your one gift, which is a combination of many gifts, and see yourselves as saints to those who are yet to come,” she said.
She illustrated her message through a story about an uncle in Arkansas who had been a strong influence on her as a child. After his death, she returned to Arkansas where she discovered that he had been an inspiration to many others as well. The students, she said, also could have this kind of effect on the world.
“It is upon you to see yourselves as saints with a delicious future, an incredible mission,” she said. “When you see where you come from, you can see where you stand today and envision your future.”
A profound thank you to Ms. Angelou for all she was and will continue to be for those who find comfort, love and strength in her beautiful words.