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The Auburn University College of Liberal Arts recently held "An Afternoon with Maya Angelou," at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center. The talk was part of the Women's Leadership Institute Extraordinary Women Lecture Series.
Angelou was greeted by the Auburn University Gospel Choir and introduced by Auburn University Trustee Sarah Newton.
"I am proud to be in Auburn and thankful for the Women's Leadership Institute for bringing me here because they are a rainbow in the clouds," Angelou said. "The institute encourages us to be proud of ourselves, honor ourselves, to lift ourselves up, and to make an even playing field for women – that is a rainbow in the clouds. That means in the worst of times that a woman… is witnessing hope."
Angelou recited poetry from her favorite poets and talked about her journey from her childhood in Stamps, Ark., to traveling around the world and being asked to prepare poems for President Bill Clinton's inauguration and the United Nations.
Angelou said that people are more alike than unalike, and she encouraged the 700-plus people in the audience to be courageous and kind.
"I commend you, and hope you commend each other, respect each other and encourage each other," Angelou said. "Sometimes we forget about the power we have – saying, 'you look great in that purple,' or 'I love your shoes,' – you have no idea, sometimes the person you have just made a commendation to, that person may have just got off the phone with the doctor who was not pleased with their X-rays. You have no idea what a statement of 'Hi! How are you?' means to someone who just heard their job has been wiped out; you have no idea. And when you said 'thank you,' or 'good morning!' to that person, you have no idea what you've done for somebody. How you lift someone up because you are a rainbow in the clouds."
"Dr. Maya Angelou is someone whose expertise spans the full gambit of experience and who has remained fearlessly relevant for more than 50 years; she is a true Renaissance woman," said Barbara Baker, executive director of the Women's Leadership Institute. "When the Women's Leadership Institute set out to find an exceptional contemporary woman leader who would interest as many varying constituencies within the Auburn family as possible, Dr. Angelou was the obvious choice."
Angelou was the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco, went on to dance in a European tour of "Porgy and Bess," worked for Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was a founding member of the Harlem Writers Guild before she published her award-winning autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" in 1969. She followed that with five more autobiographical books and several volumes of poetry including the much beloved "Phenomenal Woman."
Angelou opened the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity this year and is publishing her 16th book.
The Extraordinary Women Lecture was sponsored by State Farm Insurance, the College of Liberal Arts, University Outreach, the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, the Honors College, University Program Council and the Africana and Women's Studies programs. For more information on the Extraordinary Women Lecture Series and the Women's Leadership Institute, go to http://www.cla.auburn.edu/wli/.
Last Updated: Nov. 9, 2012