Maya Angelou `The Graduation`

Categories: Maya Angelou

P1- Summarize the essay and identify the author and title;

Maya Angelou is the walking encyclopedia. She has astounding achievements to her credit. She is a great social thinker; her contribution in all the wings of literature is extraordinary! Welfare of women is very dear to her heart and therefore she is known as the Renaissance woman. Her inner world is very strong; when she speaks she mesmerizes the audience with the facts and figures and her oratorical skills. She has clearly crossed the mind barrier, she radiates peace, demolishes the structure of race-prejudice.

The pages of human history daubed in bloodshed and coated with racial and ethnic prejudices, ask the crying question. How to make this Planet Earth heaven- like?

The answer is simple and direct. Eyes full of understanding, heart full of love and the life that refuses conflicts-these alone are enough!—ask Maya Angelou—she is the living example of all these ideals and seen the practical application of them.

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She is born on April 4, 1928, St. Louis, Missouri. She is the second poet in U. S. History to be given the honor of writing and reciting original work at the Presidential Inauguration in January 1993.

She has written autobiographies, personal essays, children books, poetry, plays, screenplays, acting in films and plays, radio broadcasting, recordings, spoken word albums, article contribution to many important magazines and newspapers,  a linguist with fluency in seven  languages, honorary degrees of  many universities/colleges, and what not! She has lived through the crucial period of the American history when bitter race prejudices prevailed.

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“The Graduation,” essay shows the path of her growth during the trying time in her life. The white power structure in the South treated the black badly, rather inhumanly. The black people suffered blows to every part of their psyche, everyday in every walk of life. How local politicians used the non-political event like Graduation Ceremony to promote their own self-interests is highlighted in the essay.

P2- Explain the primary aim that you see in this essay. What is the author’s main purpose? What is he or she trying to accomplish in writing this essay?

The primary aim of the essay is recollection of her past, as a women belonging to the Negro race. Her writing, apart from the literary merits, seems to be simple and sweet, but behind that simplicity runs an undercurrent of steel-will, that sets a program and sees it through. Her toughened smile indicates the harsh realities she had experienced in her life. The greatest beauty of her writing is that she is free from malice. She advises you to live life in its hard trials, tribulations, duty and beauty.

She makes her points by giving due weight to the pair of opposites and the need to understand and transcend them. Spirituality and love for humanity radiates throughout the essay. She says, without actually saying it verbatim, that unless the thought process of the Whites change, their action process will never change and the black race will continue to suffer. Only when the thoughts are changed, the mind is changed; when the mind is changed, the man is changed; when the man is changed, the society is changed. The laws are there, the constitutional rights are there for the black race, but their actual implementation being biased, the ground realities are not as they should be!

P3- Explain the primary mode you see in this essay? What is the method of organization (mode) used by the author?

It is an autobiographical essay. This essay is the product of her experiences in the College of Self-education (real-life situations) where her mind was her Principal. Her initiatives, her Professors! Her hard work her Tutors! She was an individual who would decide on a project; she would start, and she would finish! She is one of the rare souls whom God deputes on Planet Earth, to transform a weak, subjugated race into a powerful body of responsible citizens.

Essays like Graduation are not the products of intellect alone; they arrive straight from the heart. One’s experience is precious and any author can not avoid the deep impact and influence of one’s own experiences in life. Maya Angelou is not exception to this rule. “She applies three rhetorical strategies-an expressive voice, illustrative comparison and contrast, and flowing sentences bursting with vivid simile and delightful imagery to examine the personal growth of humans caught in the adversity of racial discrimination.”(Maya…..) The Graduation Day was the historic event in the life of small black community-they were anticipating a great recognition, the second-birth in their life. She describes that emotion, how they were trembling within, happy with the sense of anticipation of something very big that would happen soon engulf their lives, their innocence and tension, the uncertainty within the certainty etc.

She did not write the essay with her pen but by her heart. It has the graceful movements of the traditional classical dance. The language is colorful like the feathers of a peacock. The moods and emotions change from paragraph to paragraph, sometimes from sentence to sentence. She creates hopes, soars high like an ace pilot and then dashes to the ground. When you are readying to laugh, you realize that your eyes are moist. You wonder how a human being can be that cruel to a fellow human being. The Graduation was a community event for the blacks. A life-time achievement award! But silent internal mourning was in store for them. With that grim experience, they all became cynical.

During the Graduation ceremony a white boy, is afforded an opportunity to speak, in preference to a blacks. Maya muses, "The white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileo's and Madame Curie's and Edison's and Gauguin's, and our boys (the girls weren't even in on it) would try to be Jesse Owensen's and Joe Louise's" (pg.6).

But she regains her hope when her classmate Henry Reed sings the Negro National Anthem. Now Maya thinks, “We were on top again. As always, again! We survived. (pg.8). She compares the hard times of the present with the harder times of the past.

The hallmark of the essay is the power of the language. It is extraordinary   like a brilliant painting in motion. Here are some of the examples:

 “The children were excited and ran around in the dark. ... having neither lawn nor hedges, not tennis court, nor climbing ivy. Its two buildings (main classrooms, the grade school and home economics) were set on a dirt hill with no fence... Rusty hoops and swaying poles represented the permanent recreational equipment” (Article: 2)

“My class was wearing butter-yellow pique dresses, and momma launched out on mine. She smocked the yoke into tiny crisscrossing puckers, the shirred the rest of the bodice. Her dark fingers ducked in and out of the lemony cloth as she embroidered raised daisies around the hem.”(Article: 2)

 “A group of small children were to be presented in a play about buttercups and daisies and bunny rabbits. They could be heard throughout the building practicing their hops and their little songs that sounded like silver bells. The older girls (non-graduates, of course) were assigned the task of making refreshments for the night's festivities. A tangy scent of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate wafted around the home economics building...”

(Article: 2)

When the Graduation ceremony ends, they return home, without joy. Like the ones back from a mourning event!

P4- Explain the main point of the essay. Was the author successful in accomplishing his/her point?

The main point of the essay is to highlight the social conditions that prevailed fifty-five years ago in the South in the field of education between the white and the black students. The fanciful facilities and luxuries the white children enjoyed in their schools-- even the level headed Maya Angelou is driven to the wall to make the statement, it “was awful to be a Negro and have no control over my life.” She is happy that the black children and youth have made a mark in their life now. The black community has succeeded to a great extent in beating back discrimination.

Their wings are strong now and they no more have to live the life of the bird in a cage. But, even on getting access to education, the job prospectuses for the black children were limited then. The South trained them in vocational studies, like carpenters, masons, maids, cooks, baby sitters etc. The White participated symbolically in the Graduation ceremonies and lectured on God, Southern way of life etc. She makes the poignant comment that the anticipated Negro National Anthem fails to play and what a disappointment it is for the black students!


                                         References Cited

Article-2: Maya Angelou. - 4k – Retrieved on November 27,2007.

Article: Maya Angelou. - 5k -Retrieved on November 25, 2007.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Maya Angelou `The Graduation`. (2017, Apr 29). Retrieved from

Maya Angelou `The Graduation` essay
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