University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 4/1996
Maya Angelou tells Class of 1996 to see themselves as 'rainbows'

     Standing before the largest crowd in University of Delaware
Commencement history, poet Maya Angelou sang out, "When it looked
like the sun wasn't gonna shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the
     Addressing the hushed and attentive crowd of 25,000
graduates, family and friends, she told the members of the Class
of 1996 that they have "the ability to be rainbows in the
     According to Genesis, she said, when it seemed that the rain
would never end, God created the rainbow. "But, in the 19th
century," Angelou said, "some African-American lyricist decided
that God must have put the rainbow in the clouds, because
rainbows, suns, moons, stars, novae, comets, all sorts of
luminosities, are in the sky all the time. However, clouds can so
lower and lower that you cannot see the brightness. So, the
suggestion was God put the rainbow in the clouds themselves so,
in the worst of times, in the dreariest of times, in the most
hopeless of times, you can see some light...."
     "There have been people-your parents, your guardians, your
teachers, your beloveds, your professors, people who didn't even
know your name-[all] have been rainbows for you. This is the
truth of it: Every graduate today has already been paid for.
     "Whether her or his ancestors came from Ireland in the 1840s
and '50s trying to escape the potato blight; or, if they came
from Eastern Europe trying to escape the little and large
murders, the pogroms, arriving at Ellis Island, having their
names changed to something utterly unpronounceable; or, if they
came from Malta or Greece or Crete or South America or Mexico,
trying to find a place that would hold all the people, all the
faces, all the Adams and Eves and their countless generations;
or, if they came from Asia in the 1850s to build this country, to
build the railroads, unable legally to bring their mates for
eight decades; or if they came from Africa, unwillingly, bound,
lying spoon fashion, back to belly in the filthy hatches of slave
ships and in their own and in each other's excrement and urine,
they have paid for each of you already," she said.
     "Without any chance of ever knowing what your faces would
look like, what mad personalities you would foist upon the world,
what brilliances you would give to us, what rainbows you would
become, they have paid for you."
     The challenge for the Class of 1996 is to pay for those
still to come, she said. "In that case, then, all you have to do
is see yourselves as rainbows. There are young men and women,
maybe in your families, maybe not; maybe in your neighborhoods,
maybe not; young men and women who will never see you, to whom
you owe incredible responsibilities because you have been paid
for. I think it is a wonderful thing to take on the
responsibility for the time you take up and the space you occupy.
It is exciting. It is onerous, but, it is honorable."
     She told the graduates that it is her prayer that they
continue with their educations, win awards, fall in love and
accept it in return, but, she added, "In any case, where you will
be greatest, the area in which you will be the most important
will be the area in which you inspire, encourage and support
another human being."
     Angelou concluded her remarks by reading the Class of 1996 a
poem, entitled A Brave and Starling Truth, which she wrote for
the United Nations in 1995. The poem ends:
      When we come to it,
      We, this people, on this wayward, floating body,
      Created on this Earth, of this Earth,
      Have the power to fashion for this Earth
      A climate where every man and every woman
      Can live freely without sanctimonious piety,
      Without crippling fear.
      When we come to it,
      We must confess that we are the possible;
      We are the miraculous, we are the true wonder of this world.
      That is when, and only when
      We come to it.
     "I pray, Class of 1996, that you have come to it," she said.
     The University's 147th Commencement ceremony opened with the
traditional procession of alumni delegates, led by the four
winners of the Alumni Association's 1996 Emalea Pusey Warner and
Alexander J. Taylor Jr. awards for the outstanding senior man and
woman. The Warner award-winners were Gretchen L. Kohl of
Northcumberland, Pa., and Emily M. Rome of Chanhassen, Minn., and
the Taylor awardees were Guillermo A. Navarro of Newark, Del.,
and Michael J. Skinner of Olney, Md.
     Also, as part of the ceremony, the Senior Class presented a
contribution of $6,950 to be used to enhance Alumni Park,
originally established by the Class of 1983 and recently moved to
a new location on West Delaware Avenue, next to the Trabant
University Center.
     Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper presented Sonia Rose
Dingillian of Newark, Del., the award for achieving a 4.0
cumulative grade index, upon completion of seven consecutive
semesters at the University. Dingillian received a bachelor's
degree in anthropology, with minors in art history and geology.
In the fall, she will begin a master's degree program in
anthropology at George Washington University.
     At the conclusion of the ceremonies, graduates and their
friends and families attended college convocation ceremonies,
held at sites across the campus.
                                               -John Brennen