Maya Angelou delivered the convocation address to the class of 1993 and received an honorary doctorate. From left: Angelou, University President William Atchley, and Dr. Larry Meredith.
Pacific remembers Maya AngelouStudents, staff, faculty and alumni reflect on the legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou, who delivered an unforgettable convocation address to the University of the Pacific Class of 1993 on Commencement weekend. The renowned author, artist and activist passed away this week at age 86.
When you've worked at University of the Pacific for 25 years, the days can slide into months and years; but some moments stand out in your memory, such as the moment you very nearly stumble into one of the most renowned poets, authors, and activists that the United States ever produced.
"We all were in awe of her - Maya Angelou was a tall woman with a deep voice, and she made you feel very comfortable around her," says Kitty Gilbert, who helped conduct commencement ceremonies at University of the Pacific in 1993, when Dr. Angelou delivered the convocation address.
Angelou, who died May 28, had deep roots in the Stockton community. She lived here briefly in her early life, and her mother, Vivian Baxter Johnson, settled in Stockton, becoming a well-known and much-loved figure in the community. Baxter Park, just a few miles from Pacific's campus in Stockton, is named in her honor.
Though they only met for a few moments, Angelou's impact on Gilbert was lasting.
"My short time being in her presence will always be with me," Gilbert said. "I've never met a more gracious, down-to-earth person."
In her storied life, Angelou wrote seven autobiographies, three books of essays, many books of poetry, and several theatrical plays and film screenplays. She was recognized for her work as an artist with nominations for Tony awards and Grammys; her poetry earned her the National Medal of the Arts, the Lincoln Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She was also awarded over 30 honorary doctorates, including one from Pacific in 1993. As she spoke at Knoles Lawn, the mood in the crowd went from excited to electric.
"She brought an immense embodied spirit to the stage," remembered Diane Borden, professor emeritus of English. "Her voice was rich and embracing. Her body swayed with the lyrical rhythms of her voice and words. The audience knew this was a goddess. Everyone cheered, stood, and rocked with her humor, wisdom and grace. It was the best commencement at Pacific for all time in the 40 years I attended."
Students and staff who heard the speech over 20 years ago came together on the University's Facebook page to share their memories of that remarkable morning.
"She delivered an impeccable and thought-provoking commencement speech that changed my perception of living life," wrote Sylarz Trader '93. "What matters most is in this life time -- every tiny little thing we do each day, for our mind and spirit and to those around us. Life is so precious -- live it wisely, live it well. I am saddened to know that Dr. Maya is no longer with us, but her idealistic teaching lives on forever."
Posted former staff member Cathy Martinez, who worked in student advising at the time: "I did not meet her but I remember that event as one of the most powerful during my 25 years at Pacific," she wrote. " ... I don't remember many of the specific words of her short speech but I do remember, all these years later, the high level of emotion that was palpable as we all stood in ovation at the end. I spent the rest of that evening enveloped in a sense of awe because of that encounter with this woman of grace, power and love."