Maya Angelou Graduation Day Speech

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Words might not cut a person’s skin or break his bones, but with all certainty they are not harmless. They can cause immediate pain or bring instant joy; they trigger emotional responses faster than any other senses can. At the beginning of “Graduation Day,” Maya Angelou sounds similar to any other graduate: anxious, excited, and ready to move on to the next step in her life. However, a speech by Edward Donleavy, a white man, unintentionally pointed out the people of the Negro race did not have the same opportunities as the white people. The power of his words causes Angelou to cast a negative outlook on her Negro identity and to lose her faith in all of humanity. Although people often think words go unnoticed or without consequence, demeaning words with a powerful connotation harm a person’s self-worth. First, words of injustice cause a negative view of self-worth. During Donleavy’s belittling speech, he does not seem to intentionally place the Negros as a lower race. Instead, he portrays them as a lesser race when he mentions their high…show more content…
This idea is proven in Angelou’s “Graduation Day” at the turning point of the story, when Henry Reed’s speech brings positivity back to the ceremony. She still had her negative view of self-worth at the start of his speech, “[T]hen, Henry Reed was giving his valedictory address, ‘To Be or Not to Be.’ Hadn’t he heard the white folks? We couldn’t be, so the question was a waste of time” The demeaning words of Donleavy had cut deep, but Angelou explains how Henry Reed shows words fix negativity also, “Every child I knew had learned that song with his ABC’s and along with “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.” But I personally had never heard it before. Never heard the words, despite the thousands of times I had sung them. Never thought that it had anything to do with me” (Angelou, 2014,
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