(WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.) — Thousands gathered for a memorial service for Maya Angelou on Saturday at Wake Forest University featuring an array of speakers, including former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and First Lady Michelle Obama.
The ceremony opened with Angelou’s grandson Elliott Jones reading one of his grandmother’s poems, “Still I Rise.” Jones later spoke of his grandmother, saying that his family had to “share” Angelou “with the globe.”
After Jones and actress Cecily Tyson, a longtime friend of Angelou, Bill Clinton spoke of the last time he saw Angelou and the impact that she had on millions around the world. Clinton said that when he saw Angelou last month at a ceremony at the Lyndon B. Johnson library in Austin, Texas, he told her that he couldn’t believe she traveled all the way there. “Just because I am wheelchair bound, doesn’t mean I don’t get around,” Angelou told him. Clinton praised Angelou, who passed away last week at the age of 86, saying that she “taught us through all those decades of challenges that life is a constant choice.”
After a performance by Lee Ann Womack, Oprah Winfrey took the stage to thank Angelou, acknowledging “how powerful one life can be.” Calling Angelou her “spiritual queen mother” and “the ultimate teacher,” Winfrey said she was unable to describe the feeling of loss that accompanied Angelou’s death. “Rarely did we ever have a phone conversation where I wasn’t taking notes. She was always teaching,” Winfrey said of the writer she called “the greatest woman I have ever known.”
The first lady also spoke, noting that Angelou had been an inspiration to her since she was a child.
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