The acclaimed poet and civil rights icon died May 28, 2014, a year and a half after visiting campus for Fall Convocation where she encouraged students to "have an attitude of gratitude" and called Elon a "rainbow in the cloud."
Maya Angelou died May 28, 2014, at the age of 86. She served as Elon University’s Fall Convocation speaker on Oct. 4, 2012.[/caption]“Renaissance woman” Maya Angelou, one of the most beloved icons of the 20th century and Elon University’s Fall Convocation speaker in 2012, died at home May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86.
Her visit drew one of the largest crowds in recent history to Alumni Gym where 2,400 students, professors, alumni and community members heard her tales of growing up in Arkansas and Missouri.
“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.’”
The author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” also received an award from Elon’s Black Cultural Society for her “outstanding humanitarian contributions to the promotion and celebration of peoples and cultures” around the planet.
“I’m really glad that given her health issues over the past several years that Elon was able to have her here and that students got to see her sharp mind and great personality,” said Associate Professor Prudence Layne, coordinator of Elon’s African and African-American Studies program. “She was a scarred woman in so many ways, but that was part of the reason millions were endeared to her. She was human. People could see her own experiences and fallacies in their own lives.
“The sad thing is that sometimes death will have us revisit a person’s life, and we should probably do more of that when they are alive. There will be lots of ways to think about the legacy she left. Not just through her work, but through her life, and the way she touched so many.”
An April 2014 Elon University Poll of North Carolinians identified Maya Angelou as the eighth most popular person associated with the state. A February 2013 poll found Angelou ranked No. 5 among the most admired women in the world among North Carolinians.