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Read President Obama’s citation of Maya Angelou when awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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February 16, 2022, 2:11pm

Yesterday in 2010, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Maya Angelou, titanic writer, performer, activist, and “spokesperson for . . . all people who are committed to raising the moral standards of living in the United States.” Angelou was recognized alongside three other artists: Yo-Yo Ma, Jasper Johns and Gerda Weissmann Klein. (Alas, she was also recognized alongside another president.) Today, we’re taking the time to read Obama’s admiring citation.

Here is the text of Obama’s awards speech, honoring Angelou’s life and work:

As a girl, Marguerite Ann Johnson endured trauma and abuse that actually led her to stop speaking. But as a performer, and ultimately a writer, a poet, Maya Angelou found her voice. It’s a voice that’s spoken to millions, including my mother, which is why my sister is named Maya.

By holding on, even amid cruelty and loss, and then expanding to a sense of compassion, an ability to love—by holding on to her humanity—she has inspired countless others who have known injustice and misfortune in their own lives. I won’t try to say it better than Maya Angelou herself, who wrote that:

History, despite its wrenching pain,

Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,

Need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon

The day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream . . .

Dr. Maya Angelou. Out of a youth marked by pain and injustice, Dr. Maya Angelou rose with an unbending determination to fight for civil rights and inspire every one of us to recognize and embrace the possibility and potential we each hold.

With her soaring poetry, towering prose and mastery of a range of art forms, Dr. Angelou has spoken to the conscience of our nation. Her soul-stirring words have taught us how to reach across division and honor the beauty of our world.

You can also watch Angelou respond to her award here. Thank you, Maya Angelou!

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