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Angelou tells graduates to “take time out”

Maya Angelou gave the commencement address for the Class of 2005.

Award-winning poet, author, educator, actress, playwright and civil rights activist Maya Angelou exhorted the 1,650 graduates at Lehigh’s 137th commencement to head boldly toward their life’s journey and embrace the challenges that face them.

“You are our hope,” she said in an address that alternated between storytelling, poetry and song. “You are the hope of the future.”

Among the young graduates sitting in chairs on the field of Goodman Stadium, she said, might be someone who could “find a way to eliminate from our thinking the idea of bigotry, or help erase the thought of sexism and racism and ageism and all those other ignorances.”

A young Lehigh student might also help cure AIDS, or cancer.

“Is she in the fourth row?” Angelou asked. “Is he in the fifth row? She’s somewhere. Why shouldn’t she be with me in the Class of 2005? I know that there are no boundaries within the journey you’re on. And I know that hope, of course, springs eternal. It is amazing.”

While acknowledging the dangers that lie ahead, Angelou told the graduates and their families that progress can be made.

“I know that the future looms ominously to some of us,” she said. “I know you are inheriting a world of blood thirst and anger and wild rage, but I also know that there is hope and you are it. I know that there is love, and you are it. I know that this nation, with its great institutions and its history, belong to the citizens who inhabit it. And I know that the future, with its sadness and joy, its despair and ecstasy, belongs to the young hope, which is who you are.”

Angelou followed up on comments made by Gregory Farrington, Lehigh President, who suggested to graduates that they “take time to be good sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, and good citizens of this world.”

“Because of our president’s encouragement, I want to ask you to take time out,” said Angelou, who shared a story about an earlier encounter in London with a man whose heart seemed to be filled with hate.

“I went home and wrote a song, and it’s a song for Miss Roberta Flack,” she said before launching into a melodic recitation:

We ought to take time out.
Take a minute to feel some sorrow, for the folks who thought tomorrow was a place that they could call up on the phone.
Take a month and show some kindness for the folks who thought that blindness was an illness that affected eyes alone.
When you see her walking barefoot in the rain and you know she's tripping on a one-way train, you need to ask what’s all the selling and the yelling and the bleeding and the needing all about?
We ought to take time out.


Angelou also quoted from a poem she had written for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the U.N., titled “The Brave and Startling Truth,” which bemoaned the horrors of war, bigotry, abuse and intolerance:

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 – you – are the possible
We – you – are the miraculous
We – you – are the true wonders of the world.


Angelou, whose comments were preceded and followed by a standing ovation, was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters following her address, along with three other honorary degree recipients: Baccalaureate speaker William A. Graham, the Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity, and dean at the Harvard School of Divinity, who was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters; Ronald J. Ulrich ’66, chairman and chief investment officer of Equinox Capital Management, LLC, who was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters; and Manfred Rühle, director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Metallforschung in Stuttgart, Germany, who was awarded a Doctor of Engineering.

The commencement exercises were opened by Lloyd Steffen, University Chaplain and professor of religion studies, who noted that the students and faculty shared “a common dream for a community of learning, a dream sustained by the educated heart,” and called for the wisdom to guide the graduates as they commenced on their path.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Monday, May 23, 2005

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