TALLAHASSEE — With a voice soothing yet commanding full attention, world-renowned poet and author Maya Angelou told thousands of Florida A&M University students that they are attending an institution that is a “light in the sky, a rainbow in the clouds” and those who get should give, Angelou spoke on Jan. 26 to a gathering of nearly 6,000 people, regaling them with songs, poetry, stories and words of wisdom as part of the university’s Lyceum Series.
There are many institutions that young people can aspire to attend but in some parts of the country they think they will never make it to a university, Angelou said.
“Each one of us has been capable of being rainbows in the cloud — and some of us because of institutions called HBCU,” said Angelou, referring to historically black colleges and universities such as FAMU.
Some people could be wiser, hipper, prettier, richer or more educated than others, but no human being can be more human than another human being, said the revered poet.
“When you go into your classrooms, do not go in being intimidated by anything that human beings do,” Angelou said.
“When you get, give. When you learn, teach,” she said.
Angelou was asked how she would feel when she receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest medal given to a civilian in our nation, on Feb. 15.
“I will be accepting it for every African that stepped off a slave ship in 1619 and for every Italian, Asian, Greek, Spanish, Muslim, Arab and Jew,” she said. “And, to accept it from a black President, I may fall to my knees.”
Angelou, who is the Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, N.C., has received 65 honorary doctorates, the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008 and three Grammy Awards. She is best known for her series of six autobiographical volumes that includes I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
The Lyceum Series is a university-sponsored program that brings artists, lecturers and performers to the campus as a way of promoting the cultural arts.
Cynthia Hughes Harris, FAMU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and chairwoman of the series, said it is designed to contribute to the social, intellectual, spiritual and moral fabric of the faculty, staff, students and members of the community.
“Dr. Angelou’s accomplishments reflect the purpose of the Lyceum Series. As an author, poet, educator and civil rights activist, she was able to bring a powerful message to our community. She is in a class by herself and her words spoke volumes,” Harris said.
Michael Jefferson, a sophomore from Indianapolis, Ind., agreed.
“She was absolutely remarkable,” Jefferson said. “To see and hear her first-hand validated my life to service others. She emphasized that no one in the world can stop you from anything, that you should never limit yourself. The greatest limitation is the one that you see in the mirror every morning. Her stories about her life, tribulations, pain and progress truly inspired me.”