Angelou received honorary degree, gave address at Lawrence

APPLETON – Maya Angelou is being remembered for many things, including her powerful speaking.

Wake Forest University announced Angelou’s death Wednesday morning. She was 86.

The author and poet received an honorary degree from Appleton’s Lawrence University in 1976. Angelou also delivered the school’s annual Honors Convocation on May 29, 1997.

The sights and sounds of that speech 17 years ago are remembered fondly by two Lawrence professors.

“Out of this incredible pain and suffering, there was this sense of overcoming,” said Eilene Hoft-March, a French professor. “I also remember that she sang part of the address and she used no notes whatsoever. It was really quite lovely.”

“Maya Angelou’s voice which was just musical, she’s just wonderful to listen to,” said Paul Cohen, a history professor.

The professors recalled that so many people came to hear Angelou speak, a fire marshal had to ask some audience members to leave.

“It was as though the Messiah had arrived,” said Hoft-March. “The Chapel was absolutely packed.”

“There were people sitting in the aisles, all over the place,” added Cohen.

English professor Karen Hoffman came to Lawrence the year after Angelou spoke. She saw Angelou another time, while in high school. She uses Angelou’s works in her classes.

“She was certainly part of the whole rise of African-American woman writers, starting around the time that she was writing, 1970s to the present,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman believes many of Angelou’s values can be applied to our world today and into the future.

“We can certainly learn from her emphasis on having courage in the face of difficulties,” she said.

Angelou also made other appearances in Northeast Wisconsin, including at the Weidner Center in Green Bay on July 25, 2005.

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