Maya Angelou: ‘Look for good within the bad’

Maya Angelou was helped slowly on to the stage with her hand held by a younger man who eased her into her seat. Seemingly fragile, there was an immediate uncanny silence as she moved the microphone closer to her. As the lights dimmed, she began to sing with a surprisingly powerful voice. “When it look like the sun isn’t going to shine any more. God put a rainbow in the clouds.” In the beginning of what turned into a performance of song, poetry and storytelling, she told the story in genesis where a “rain had persisted so unrelentlessly that people thought it would never cease. So God, in an attempt to put the people at ease, put a rainbow in the sky.” “If its in the clouds,” Angelou said. “Not just in the sky, it’s a light that’s put in the clouds themselves, that means that the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the most threatening of times, there’s a possibility of seeing light.” At times, she spoke directly to the students and encouraged them to be fearful of nothing that is humanly possible. “When you go into the classroom,” Angelou said. “Don’t be intimidated by anything human beings are doing.” Janelle Legros, 23, a biology student at Florida State from Fort Lauderdale said there were two words that could describe the experience of seeing Maya Angelou. “Empowering and captivating,” Legros said. “To be in the presence of a woman who exudes such humility with the willingness to open herself without shame to the eyes of those around her helped me to better relate to her as she brought clarity to many life lessons.” Angelou, with her undeniable wit and poise, captivated and humored the audience with stories of her Uncle Willie and how she thought Shakespeare was a barefoot black girl from the South. Jessica Farmer, 21, a senior English student from Deerfield Beach, Fla. had been anxiously waiting for the event. “The experience was unforgettable,” Farmer said. “She was so motivating and full of life. The whole time, I was in awe.” Angelou also encouraged everyone to know and explore their history, and admire the “heroes and she-roes in their lives.” “Know that you are not grass,” Angelou said “You are like trees, you have roots.” On Feb. 15, Angelou will accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s most prestigious civilian award that recognizes meritorious service. Angelou said she doesn’t cry often, but she might fall to her knees on that day, causing the audience to erupt in applause at her candor. Her excitement stemmed from receiving the award “from the hands of a black president.” The night ended with Maya Angelou receiving the highest honor the university can bestow: the Meritorious Achievement Award. “I wanted to come to FAMU because this place is a light in the clouds,” Angelou said. “A rainbow in the clouds.” [Coming soon: Video of Maya Angelou’s visit to FAMU]