Here on the pulse of this new day is a verse from my favorite poem of all time, On the Pulse of Morning by Maya Angelou. Most of you probably heard of Dr. Angelou’s passing yesterday. I’m sure many of you were impacted by her work in some way in your lives. When she read On the Pulse of Morning at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, only the second poet in history to speak at a presidential inauguration, I was transfixed with hope and possibility for our future and moved deeply by the meaning behind her poem.
Of course it is clear that Angelou was known for her words. Her autobiographical novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings brought critical acclaim to her life in 1971 and is still highly renowned today. You may not know that in her 86 years, Maya Angelou was also a professor, a civil rights activist, a dancer, an actress, a movie director, and a singer. Angelou received numerous awards in her lifetime, including the Medal of Freedom, our country’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama at the White House in 2011. I was blessed to be able to meet Maya Angelou and be part of a group that had an “afternoon tea” with her in the early 90s when she was in Wisconsin. She was asked at the table what she had said in her life that she was most proud of. She laughed her throaty laugh and replied, “It really doesn’t matter what any of us have said. What matters is what we do. Who we are. What we believe. How we treat each other. And, can I get some more water?” If we weren’t already captivated by her booming spirit, we definitely were after that.
I would argue that the words Angelou chose throughout her lifetime indeed did matter in our world. One of my favorite quotes of hers is, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” I think Alfie Kohn would agree. He shared with us earlier at our March conference that it takes courage to be an educator in today’s world of high stakes testing, mandates that we don’t necessarily agree with, and the list goes on. In his article, Encouraging Courage, Kohn says, “It takes courage to stand up to absurdity when all around you people remain comfortably seated. But if we need one more reason to do the right thing, consider this: The kids are watching us, deciding how to live their lives in part by how we’ve chosen to live ours.”
So today, on the pulse of our final weeks of school, remember courage. Remember that you make a difference. You don’t have to be a famous poet or actress. You probably won’t be honored with a Medal of Freedom. You teach. What could be more courageous than that?
Heather Terrill-Stotts – Executive Director