Maya Angelou urged students to “be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud” this past Sunday in her address to the Class of 2017 at the Duke Chapel.
Drawing upon her childhood and sharing stories of her illustrious career, 85-year old Angelou, Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, spread her message of individual empowerment to Duke’s freshman class. She urged students to take advantage of all the resources provided to them by the University, citing professors and librarians as examples.
“They all love you," Angelou said. "I am just the only one that says it.”
Angelou also stressed the importance of literature to personal growth and advised Duke students to learn about different cultures and overcome "ignorance."
"I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me," she said, quoting Roman playwright Terrence.
In addition, she referenced Langston Hughes, her own works, and sang the folk song "God Put a Rainbow in the Sky."
Throughout her speech, Angelou reminded students that their arrivals at Duke had "already been paid for" by those who had impacted their lives and that they now have an opportunity to do the same.
"Prepare yourself at Duke so that you may pay for someone else," Angelou said.
She noted that she owes much of her success to people who have acted as "rainbows in her clouds" such as her Uncle Willie.
Dr. Angelou’s speech was met with a standing ovation at the end and students left the Chapel inspired.
"He cadence was amazing," freshman Megan Snyder said. "I could listen to her all day."
Freshman Anna Bensley noted that Angelou's words helped comfort the new students as they enter into still undefined college paths.
“I love Dr. Maya Angelou’s focus on the fact that we are all human beings and therefore nothing human is alien to us," Bensley said. "As alien and as untouchable as Duke and all of its occupants seem, I am comforted by the simple concept that we are all humans and this world is our world.”
As Angelou closed out the evening, she reminded the new class of all the possibilities in their futures.
“You will accomplish great things," she said. "A girl in the fourth row could cure breast cancer, someone in the 6th row could change the world. We've come a long way, but not yet enough.”