This ancient slave song was sung by Pulitzer Prize winner, Dr. Maya Angelou, when she began her speech on Tuesday night in front of hundreds of students at Penn State University’s Eisenhower Auditorium. Angelou stirred laughter, applause and even some tears, during her hour speech given in a wooden rocking chair. She spoke of hope and gratitude to be felt by each student.
“Each of you here at this University, is a rainbow in the clouds,” said Angelou, referencing first-generation students graduating college. She said students are these rainbows in the clouds-students are hope.
She then said that each student’s path had already been paid for by ancestors of all countries. Regardless of ethnic background, someone had come first and paid the way for students to be where they are today, Angelou said.
“You are here for a reason young men and women. It’s no accident,” Angelou said.
Angelou is one of the most predominant women in black literature and has excelled as a spoken-word artist, civil rights activist, script writer, director and multi-lingual teacher. She has earned over 60 doctor’s degrees and refers to herself as a “teacher who can write.” Though this was not her first visit to the University, it was her first as part of the Distinguished Speakers Series presented free of charge to students and faculty.
Angelou continued her presentation sharing some highlights of her life in Arkansas and the internal burdens she carried after being raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She continued to encourage the audience to use the time they had to read as much as possible and without knowing it, be rainbows for other people.
“Have enough courage to be grateful for those who paid your way,” Angelou said. “Without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue with consistency.”
After reading two of her poems, she finished stirring laughter in her audience and concluded the night by telling students they needed to not only be rainbows themselves, but also recognize the rainbows in their own lives.
“It only happened to me because I had rainbows in my life,” Angelou said.