Wake Forest’s own Reynolds Professor of American Studies, poet Maya Angelou, is being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  She is being honored at a luncheon in Washington, DC today.

The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. 

Dr. Angelou is known for being a poet and author, but she has been a faculty member at Wake Forest, teaching poetry to our students.  I have known some students who have taken her class, and it has been a transformative experience for them.  Many years ago, she did a poetry reading on campus, and I still remember her entering the stage singing – she has a remarkable voice – and wearing a bright red turban.  When she reads poetry, she is electrifying.  Her website has some video of her reading her poetry.  Here you can enjoy “Still I Rise” on video, or read the poem below.

Congratulations to Dr. Angelou for this wonderful recognition.

Still I Rise
Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise

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