Today we lost one of the great voices in American language and literature. Personally, I remember reading her novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was in ninth or tenth grade, and then coming back to it when I was starting to teach high school. I was drawn to her writing by its immediacy and its truthfulness.
The biggest lesson that I remember from Ms. Angelou, however, is a very wise aphorism that I try to remember as a teacher:
“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.”
I really believe that this one is completely true. I can stand up and try to explain literature until I’m blue in the face, and no matter how hard I work, I probably won’t reach many students in a meaningful way. But when I find a way for a student to feel the joy of reading something beautiful, or to experience the thrill of finding something interesting in a piece of writing — and sharing it with others — I know that the student will leave my class with a gift that she’ll always remember. Below she is pictured giving a graduated address to George Washington University. I don’t have any idea of what she said, but I did find more wisdom on a poetry website. I like to think that she shared this one with the graduates:
“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
Today I’ve been gratified to see so many people publishing their goodbyes and their memories of Ms. Angelou on their facebook pages, and it’s been a particular thrill to see former English students of mine sharing their memories of her work. I’m not much of a scholar, so I’ll leave the real work of eulogizing Ms. Angelou to better, more capable minds. Here are some links: