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Maya Angelou Receives Honorary Degree from University of Redlands; Talks of Tearing Down Walls

REDLANDS, CA (March 24, 2011)— Dr. Maya Angelou, the celebrated author, poet, educator and activist, became the newest graduate of the University of Redlands when she was presented with an honorary degree after speaking to a packed Memorial Chapel Wednesday night.

At the end of her fourth visit to the University, President James R. Appleton and Academic Affairs Vice President David Fite bestowed upon Angelou the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
The recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient bowed her head, and after several moments replied:
“Family. That’s who you are to me.”

In poetry, song and story, Angelou entertained and moved the enthusiastic crowd that gave her several standing ovations.

“I come to help tear down the walls of ignorance,” she said. “This University, this Redlands… is a rainbow in the clouds,” offering a “chance to let the walls come tumbling down.”

“It was built for that. Supported and founded for that. You are here because you are supposed to learn that,” she said.

Angelou told the Redlands audience she had to postpone her invitation to speak because she was selected to receive the Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian honor—from President Barack Obama in February.

She held the medal up to the audience, telling them “I know this represents seeing the walls coming tumbling down. If you see me wearing it on TV, know that I’m wearing it for you.”

Angelou has authored 12 best-selling books, including “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” an autobiographical account of her youth, and numerous magazine articles that have earned her Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations.

In 1993, Angelou became the second poet in U.S. history to have the honor of writing and reciting original work at a presidential inauguration. Delivering “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration gave her wide recognition for which she was awarded a Grammy.

Hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary black literature, Angelou is a lifetime Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

In presenting the honorary degree to Angelou, President Appleton told her, “Your voice and wisdom have reached across generations and around the world to change the lives of many.” 

Comments from the evening can be found on Twitter.com/UofRedlands at #mayaredlands.

Maya Angelou ended her talk at Redlands by reading her poem, “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which she read at the ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. Before she read the poem, she asked that it be posted on the website at Redlands.


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