President’s Lecture Series brings prominent speakers to campus

Blending poetry with song, Maya Angelou — poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director — gave graduating seniors some words of wisdom during the first-ever Graduate Convocation.

Angelou was invited to UM through the President’s Lecture Series, which features prominent leaders and thinkers from around the world who share their experiences.

President Donna E. Shalala envisioned a lecture series where students and members of the University of Miami community come together. Students would have an opportunity to be challenged, enriched, and inspired by these influential and inspirational leaders.

Each year, Shalala and the President’s Lecture Series Committee invite lecturers to UM. The Committee, comprised of students, coordinates all of the details of each speaking engagement.

Past speakers have included: Howell Raines, Pulitzer Prize winner and former Executive Editor of The New York Times; Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and Phat Farm Clothing; and Patricia J. Williams, renowned author and law professor at Columbia University. Angelou was the final speaker of the 2003-2004 school year through the lecture series.

Angelou painted the image of rainbows in the clouds – the people who quietly influence our lives, causing a domino effect of good deeds and success – for the audience with her rhythmic words and life experiences.

It didn’t matter whether people in the audience were familiar with Angelou’s work. She mesmerized everyone who listened.

Angelou said her grandmother was one of the brightest rainbows in her life, always telling Angelou she was meant to inspire.

“My ‘momma,’ with her fifth-grade education, told me I’d be a teacher one day,” Angelou said. “And look at me now.”

Angelou has earned 56 honorary doctorate degrees and was awarded a lifetime membership to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002. She has also authored 12 best-selling books, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

“She takes the young generation back to the old school and comes right back into the present,” says Dinah Berry, events coordinator at the UM RSMAS campus. “She’s right up there with Oprah Winfrey and other inspirational women of our time.”

Angelou left the audience – especially graduating seniors – with words that will echo in their hearts as they pick up their diplomas and move off into whatever awaits.

“You are all the dreamers of UM who dare to keep a rainbow in the clouds.”

Future speakers in the President’s Lecture Series include James Carville and Mary Matalin, who will speak at Freshman Orientation about their experiences as Democratic and Republican strategists. I

>> For more information about the President’s Lecture Series, visit

Jorge Arauz contributed to this article.