It is a special cohort of students that is able to claim itself as Literature majors at Duke University, and I consider myself extremely lucky to call myself one of that small group of ten that graduated from the department just two years ago. However, I must warn you - though I am proud to call it mine now, it wasn't always so.
As a lowerclassman, the struggle to manage my family's expectations of a traditional career path and my own interests had brought uncertainty into what should have been an easy decision. I was confused and torn by my passion for the art (and the academic enjoyment it fielded me) and the internal guilt I harbored for not following the path my family had mapped out.
This is about when Dr. Maya Angelou came into the picture. Like many Duke students, my first brush with her was through assigned readings in grade school and then her annual Convocation keynote during Orientation Week. I had always loved her poems and even as a freshman, I was in wonder of the inspiration and fresh perspective she instilled in the students though she had been doing the keynote for decades. Even so, it wasn't until I was an upperclassman in Delta Gamma sorority, which hosted Dr. Angelou at the event each year, that I was afforded the incredible opportunity to meet her.
We were in a back entrance of the Chapel after ushering another fabulous talk, and though her son conveyed that she was exhausted by the experience, she was still waiting for us and excited to meet. She greeted all of us, shook our hands, and gave a bit of personal inspiration there to our sisters in that little nook. I may be a little selfish when I say that I felt like her words were spoken directly to me, but being in her presence with my academic background made me truly awestruck and reflect on my current circumstance.
All in all, I credit my brief meeting with her for jolting me into the realization that there was nothing wrong with my love of the written word, and it was time to release myself from my self-constructed cage of doubt and guilt. Without her, I would have continued my studies with a clouded head (and heart) and been unable to fly free and wholeheartedly enjoy my academic career so much.
So, thank you, Dr. Angelou. It would have been impossible to absorb the amazing teachings I was so lucky to experience from our renowned faculty without the clear eyes you gave me.