Sunday, August 23, 2009

Not Your Mama's Life

As if I weren't impressed already by the sheer beauty of Duke's gothic buildings, the rapidity with which I have fallen in love with this school, and the fact that I got all the classes I if all that weren't enough to convince me that I am in the right place, I sat about 50 ft away from Maya Angelou today as she gave a welcome speech to the new Duke students. So now I actually know Duke is the place for me. Maya told me so.

This woman is a phenomenal presence when she speaks. On top of her many other talents, which I neglect to enumerate here only due to lack of space, she has the power to captivate an audience with her humor, grace, and (I must mention it) absolutely no notes. Her address to the Duke Class of 2013 (though more importantly to the select group of Duke transfer students) was not boring in any sense of the word, but full of a straight-forward humor that had the entire chapel laughing. Her manner of delivery was not condescending in the least, though the wisdom she imparted obviously has been gained from a lifetime full of great struggles and successes. She could easily have said, "Well, if you work hard enough, maybe someday you will have 1/8 of my fame and fortune." But alas, she said nothing of the sort. She reminded us, "This is your life...not your mama's, not your papa's, not you boyfriend's or your girlfriend's. It's yours." And that with our lives we have the responsibility to actually do something - starting now. We didn't just come to Duke for that piece of paper to be placed into our hands 4 (or 2) years later...or to find our husband/wife. And then she proceeded to quote Thomas Mann - except when I searched for this quote, the most similar one is from Horace Mann. Oh well...this one is an excellent quotation anyway.

"Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

I am so ready to be a part of something bigger - to use what I learned this summer and my passions to make a difference. I have felt unmotivated for so long and I feel recharged. Finally. It's been a long time coming.

I'll wrap this up with a point that Maya (yes, we're on a first-name basis) made at the beginning of her speech: Courage is the most important virtue because without it one cannot consistently practice all of the other virtues. I'm working on having courage. Getting there though.


  1. Aww, Z! I miss you so much, and I'm so glad that you already feel at home at Duke! Can't wait to hear more! :)

  2. Maya Angelou was my graduation speaker and she was totally inspirational! So glad that you are having a good time. Thinking of you!

  3. This is Senora Dillon, by the way.