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Fall 2012: Maya Angelou dazzles at Fall Convocation

The world renowned poet, author, playwright and educator shared her wit and wisdom during Elon's 2012 Fall Convocation.

“‘When you learn, teach. And when you get, give.’” - Maya Angelou to Fall Convocation at Elon University, citing advice learned from her grandmother.


Encouraging students to make the most of their college education and to “have an attitude of gratitude,” Maya Angelou, an American icon whose poetry and literature have been honored around the world, visited Elon University  Oct. 4 for its annual Fall Convocation program.

The author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” spoke Oct. 4 for more than an hour to a sold-out Alumni Gym where 2,400 students, professors, alumni and friends of the university heard her share stories of her travels and recite poetry while offering advice for living a life of meaning, or as she described it, being a “rainbow in the clouds” for others.

“Young men and women coming into this university, you’re not here just to get a piece of paper, you’re not here to meet that guy or the girl who is as cute as a button,” Angelou said. “What you’re here for is to say to those who went before you, ‘Thank you, thank you very much. I will try to make my country more than it is today.'”

Angelou recounted tales of growing up in Arkansas and Missouri. What she learned and the people she has touched, however, has more to do with values instilled early in life through education. Courage, she argued, is the most important virtue for students to build.

The Black Cultural Society honored Maya Angelou prior to Fall Convocation on Oct. 4, 2012. Pictured (l-r) are Arnetia Fogg; Jana Lynn Patterson, assistant vice president for student life; Chevonne Sewer, Janice Ratliff, program assistant for student development and auxiliary services; and Anyssa McMillan.

“Without courage you can’t represent the other virtues consistently. You have to have courage, and here in this institution of higher education, this is where you’ll continue to develop it,” she said. “You’re not born with courage. I think that you develop it.”

It is incumbent for people to spread their education to those around them, she said.

“Not only are you in a place where you will learn, but you are in a place where you will become able to teach. What a blessing,” Angelou said. She soon cited advice her grandmother once put forward. “‘When you learn, teach. And when you get, give.’”

Angelou praised Elon for the role it has played over the years in helping people continue their learning. She also sprinkled humor into her observations about the university.

“Many years ago it was the school down the street, it was the place around the corner. There were other places when people finished high school they wanted to go to,” Angelou said. “But actually, Elon was a rainbow in the cloud. Many people came here who represented the first time anyone in their family had ever gone to an institution of higher education. Elon! And I’m amazed that I live in this state, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been invited! Mmm-mm!”

Prior to the event, the Black Cultural Society of Elon University recognized Angelou with an award for her “outstanding humanitarian contributions to the promotion and celebration of peoples and cultures” around the planet. Students presenting the award were Arnetia Fogg, Chevonne Sewer and Anyssa McMillan.

Keren Rivas,
12/21/2012 2:55 PM