A LaGrange man fondly remembers the poet laureate, professor, and civil rights activist from a class she taught at Wake Forest University

Last updated: May 31. 2014 11:34AM - 3495 Views
By - mruberti@civitasmedia.com

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“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Dr. Maya Angelou

Eloquent words that have resonated in hearts and lives around the world; and especially for LaGrange native Matthew Williams. The LaGrange High School graduate had the honor of meeting Dr. Maya Angelou and taking one of her poetry classes at Wake Forest University back in 2009.

Which, according to Williams, just to get a spot in her course was not an easy feat. He got in after a friend dropped out, but still had to compete against dozens of other students also wanting to take Dr. Angelou’s class .

“Registration opened at 9 am and you physically had to go to the English Department,” explained Williams. ” I remember waking up that morning and sprinting from my on campus apartment to the building … but it was the best feeling ever to sign up for that class.

Dr. Angelou’s class that semester was teaching students how read and recite poetry. Williams said they studied Shakespeare, feminist poets, and even some of her own works, which students then had to speak in front of the class.

“You can be very intimidated by her [Maya Angelou] stature and reputation, but she was incredibly welcoming and warm,” Williams remembered. ” She was so open and nurturing. On the first day, she set the tone for the class …. told us to ‘take hold of the material’ and participate.”

“She challenged us to be bold,” Williams added. ” She encouraged us to own our voice and experiences …. speak loudly and with conviction.”

Williams said Angelou also opened up about her own life in class, sharing her past experiences as a calypso dancer, a civil rights activist, and the many friendships she made along the way.

“She said she sometimes felt nervous when addressing large crowds, like one time when she spoke at Brigham Young University. She was an African American woman in the midst of a predominately white audience …. but then she said she reminded herself ’ One person plus God constitutes a majority.’ She said she went on to give a great speech,” Williams remembered. “We [ the class} were hanging on every word, gleaning on every nugget of wisdom …. you just left feeling lifted and encouraged.”

Maya Angelou died Wednesday morning in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86. While no cause of death has been given, friends and colleagues said Angelou suffered from a mysterious illness. Williams said even in 2009, the Wake Forest professor was on oxygen and couldn’t stand for long periods of time during class. But he said, her failing health did not affect her spirit. In fact, William said Dr. Angelou was scheduled to teach another class this fall at Wake Forest.

Williams said Angelou was an inspiration and great mentor to him, even after he graduated from the university in 2009. He’s now on the campus again, this time as the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications in the Office of Personal and Career Development. Williams is helping to shape students lives after college, just as Angelou did for him five years ago.

“I feel so honored to have the privilege to be a student of hers, and continue to share her legacy and her message,” he said. ” She encouraged us to be the best person we could be….that we’re here for a reason and for a purpose. It’s incredibly inspiring.”

“I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.” Dr. Maya Angelou

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