Poet Maya Angelou urged students and Business School alumni to bring poetry into their lives in a speech Friday at Hill Auditorium.
Although Angelou’s speech touched on difficult moments from her past, including incidents of rape, racism and her son’s spinal cord injury, Angelou sang, shimmied and smiled in her ornately carved cream-colored chair in the middle of the stage.
Angelou said even people with careers unrelated to poetry should embrace it. The humanizing nature of poetry is one of the reasons is it necessary even in the business world, she said.
“It belongs to all of us, just like math belongs to each one of us, just like science belongs to each one of us,” Angelou said. “If you’re a business person, you need it to remind yourself how human you are. So are your colleagues, your clients, customers, students.”
Angelou cited African American poetry in particular as a medium that encapsulates this idea.
She encouraged members of the audience to seek out such poems at the library and recited some.
“You need to have these poems, especially when you want to see how human you are, how wonderful, powerful, courageous you are,” she said.
The event, sponsored by the Ross School of Business as part of its alumni weekend, was moved from Rackham Auditorium to Hill Auditorium so more people from outside the Business School could attend. All tickets were free on a first-come, first-serve basis.
People were lined up an hour early for standby tickets to the sold-out event. Hill Auditorium, which seats about 3,500, was nearly full.
Angelou, 79, has written novels, plays and poetry. She has directed, acted, taught and been a vocal member of the civil rights movement.
Business School Dean Robert Dolan opened the event by explaining why the Business School chose to invite a poet to speak rather than a CEO. Dolan said he adores Angelou’s work and thinks people working in business can learn from her.
“I believe people in business do important things,” he said. “To do their job well, they need wisdom. Maya Angelou’s work is full of wisdom on living a giving life.”
Jennifer Anderson, a second-year MBA student, said she agreed with Dolan.
“I think people do like to separate the two, to classify someone as either an artist or a math person,” she said. “It’s a shame we do that to each other when we have so much to offer.”
Even at a university that encourages students to pursue a well-rounded education, people need to be reminded of the value of poetry, Angelou said.
“It may seem like I’m preaching to the choir,” she said, eyes twinkling as members of the audience laughed. “But the choir needs to be reminded sometimes.”