Assistant Secretary Ryan Pays Tribute to Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou at the State Department on November 21, 2008

Maya Angelou at the State Department on November 21, 2008

This blog post by Evan Ryan originally appeared on the State Department website on May 28. Ryan serves as the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.

Remembering Maya Angelou
By Evan M. Ryan

Dr. Maya Angelou, a beloved American poet, author, actor, director, professor, and Civil Rights activist, has died at the age of 86. Dr. Angelou began her association with the State Department in the 1950’s. Originally cast in Truman Capote and Harold Arlen’s musical “House of Flowers,” she opted instead to tour 22 countries in Europe and Africa as a dancer in a State Department production of the Gershwin folk opera “Porgy and Bess.” She became a member of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs exchange alumni community following her Fulbright 40th Anniversary Distinguished Lecturer grant in 1986, during which she lectured in Liberia on American Literature.

Dr. Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and And Still I Rise, was a Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. At President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration ceremony, she read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning.” She was the second poet to present at a presidential inauguration; her recording of the poem later won a Grammy in the “Best Spoken Word” category.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008. On February 15, 2011, she was awarded the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Dr. Angelou said she learned that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Countless people around the world, though, will remember what Dr. Angelou said, what she did, and — above all else — how she made them feel: inspired.

Through her illustrious career, she inspired a passion for lifelong education and the arts. Her words encouraged countless people around the world, and comfort us even today. She wrote that “when great souls die,” our senses remind us that: “They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”

We are better as both a people and a nation because of Dr. Angelou’s life and legacy.

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