The story “Graduation” by Maya Angelou explores the experience of a young black girl who eagerly awaits her graduation day, only to have her dreams overshadowed by a speech given by Mr. Donleavy, a white man, in which he puts down her race. However, the valedictorian, Henry Reed, later offers words of encouragement that uplift the entire audience and make them feel empowered. Throughout the story, Maya Angelou effectively uses tone as a key literary element.
In this story, the speaker is a young black girl who initially expresses pride and self-confidence. She believes that even at twelve years old and just graduating from eighth grade, she will excel in fine hand sewing. Her happiness is evident when she mentions her hard work has led to being among the top students and one of the first called during graduation.
In the middle of the narrative, the girl expresses her anger and disappointment about her graduation. As mentioned earlier, during the graduation ceremony, Mr. Donleavy’s speech focused on the accomplishments of white students. He stated that “…the white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileo’s and Madame Curies and Edison’s and Gauguins …” This statement surprised the young girl and made her believe that her graduation had lost its importance. She felt that Donleavy had revealed their lack of achievements. This sentence effectively captures her frustration and anger. However, as we approach the end of the story, there is a change in the girl’s emotions as she starts feeling proud once again about herself and her race.
During her graduation, the young girl’s class valedictorian, Henry Reed, recited a poem that deeply resonated with her. She specifically remembered Patrick Henry’s powerful words, which made her feel empowered and frightened at the same time. Regarding her future path, she proclaimed, “Give me freedom or give me death…”. This statement represented her pride in being an African American and graduating alongside her peers in 1940. Despite negative remarks from Mr. Donleavy, she rejoiced in her successes and embraced the inspiring words of Henry Reed. Her sense of pride originated from both her racial identity and academic achievements.
In summary, the story “Graduation” was fascinating as it effectively showcases the literary element of tone. From my perspective, the story conveys the message that we should embrace our identity, actions, and roots with pride. Rather than focusing on others’ opinions of us, it is more important to prioritize our own thoughts and goals.