Maya Angelou

“We Are the Miraculous”: Chapman University remembers Dr. Maya Angelou

The Chapman University community remembers Dr. Maya Angelou’s 2007 visit to campus.

Dr. Maya Angelou received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Chapman University in 2007.
Dr. Maya Angelou received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Chapman University in 2007.

The late poet, author, educator, playwright and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou, who received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Chapman University in 2007, touched countless lives with her writing, resonant voice and passionate call to “be a light.” Happenings asked members of the Chapman University community in attendance when Angelou spoke in Memorial Hall that February night in 2007 to share their memories.

 “Strength of Spirit”

“When I rekindle memories of Maya Angelou’s visit to Chapman, I recall a dichotomy: On one hand, she was one of the kindest and sweetest souls I have ever met. On the other, she had a strength of spirit that was formidable.  Perhaps, therein lies her specialness, that rare combination of courage and grace.

In the presidential autograph book of our university, she wrote, “To President Jim Doti and his Beloveds, I thank you and wish you joy.”

In having the privilege of meeting this remarkable woman, I think that is what she would wish all of us as we think about her today:  JOY!”  Chapman University President Jim Doti

“The way everyone should live”

“One of the things I remember most is that as soon as she started speaking the energy changed. Everyone sat up and was a little taller. One of the quotes from her I wrote down was ‘What I’d like to be is a light. That’s what I’d like to be in my lifetime.’ I think I still have the piece of paper I wrote it down on. It was so simple, but so very wise. That was probably the biggest thing I got out of that whole night. The idea of being a light to other people. It’s the way everyone should live.” Kat Heiden ’07, development coordinator at UCB Wheels for Humanity


“As soon as she took the stage she lit up Memorial Hall and had the entire crowd riveted the entire time. Maya Angelou is one of the greatest, most entertaining speakers I’ve ever seen and I feel truly grateful that I had the chance to see her in person and listen to her recite her poetry in the melodious way only she could.” Matt Miller ’98, assistant director of admission communications, Office of Admissions

“The passion in her voice”

“It was just an amazing experience. Just the fact that we were able to see Maya Angelou in person and then to hear her intonation and to hear the passion in her voice on the matters that she believes in — it was just an amazing experience and not one you forget.” Ming Wright, director of human resources IS and compensation


“She started singing, “This little light of mine . . .” a hymn I remember from my childhood. She spoke for about an hour, and I do not think any of the audience made a sound. Memorable, inspiring, and enlightening. I think everyone in the audience forgot they had a cell phone. No one moved until she was finished, and then they roared.” Lynda Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of English.

Angelou, who passed away on May 28 at the age of 86, was the author of such bestsellers as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  On the occasion of her doctoral ceremony in 2007, she also spoke in Memorial Hall to Chapman students and faculty as part of the university’s Phenomenal Women Week, presented by Associated Students. President Jim Doti and then-Dean of Students Joe Kertes presented Angelou with the degree and doctoral hood as the standing-room-only crowd in Memorial Hall cheered.

“Twenty or thirty years from now,” President Doti said to the predominantly student audience, “you will remember this night that Dr. Maya Angelou graced our stage as a high point in your college experience.”

Angelou’s talk to the Chapman community focused on the power of one person to change the world. “How can you know the power of one person?” she asked. “Each one of us has the chance to be a light on someone’s path. Each one of us had the light shine on us, or we wouldn’t be here.” She spoke of her childhood, growing up in the tiny town of Stamps, Ark. “Just looking at me then, it would have been impossible to say, ‘She’s going to be somebody.’ Without the lights that I received from others, I would have been just one more poor black girl.”

A high point of Angelou’s appearance was her recitation of the poem she wrote for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995, A Brave and Startling Truth, which she offered for posting on the Chapman website so that all students would have a chance to read it. In that inspiring spirit, which this courageous and gifted woman so embodied, we offer that poem again, so that all may share in the wisdom and wonder of the words of Maya Angelou:

A Brave and Startling Truth

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

– Maya Angelou

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