“Graduation” by Maya Angelou Critique Analysis

D Critique “Graduation” was written by Maya Angelou in 1969. Angelou was born in Missouri, but after her parents divorced, she was sent to live with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. While in Arkansas, Angelou attended the Lafayette County Training School. The school is the setting for her essay “Graduation. ” Angelou graduated from eighth grade at Lafayette with top honors and went on to graduate from high school.

After high school, Angelou wrote over thirty plays, poems, children’s books, and one of her autobiographies, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (Smelstor and Bruce). “Graduation” starts with Angelou’s generalization of a high school senior’s graduation. She describes how the entire student body, teachers, and community helps the senior class in their last weeks of school. “They came to school without their books, or tablets, or even pencils. Volunteers fell over themselves to secure replacements for the missing equipment” (Angelou 21).

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She describes the teachers talking to students as equals and exhibiting more respect towards them as graduation became closer. Angelou compares her school to the white high school. Her school does not have fences to mark its border, has only a few trees to give shade, and has a large area that doubles as a baseball diamond and basketball court. She explains how important the event of graduating from eighth grade is. Girls wearing new dresses if their parents can afford it, decorations hang throughout the school, and speeches are prepared are just a few examples.

Angelou states that at her grandmother’s house she is the center of attention. She receives gifts and a Sunday breakfast on the Friday morning of graduation. Angelou thinks her planning and studying is finally going to pay off. Once Angelou arrives at the school for graduation, her family takes their seats in the crowded auditorium. The school band plays a march for the students to take their seats on the stage. Angelou and her fellow classmates sing the national anthem and recite the Pledge of Allegiance as planned. The choir director and principal hastily motion the students to take their seats.

It is in this brief moment that Angelou realizes her graduation will not turn out how it was planned. The principal welcomes Mr. Edward Donleavy to the stage to speak. Instead of talking to the students about what they should look forward to after their graduation and how it is a great deal of importance to graduate, Donleavy reveals that he has granted wonderful improvements to the white school. Donleavy does not discredit the training school when it comes to first-line football tacklers and basketball players. Angelou goes on to say, “Donleavy had exposed us” (Angelou 28).

He portrays the young girls and boys as merely maids, farmers, handymen, and washerwomen. Angelou feels like being a Negro is awful, and declares that they have no control over their lives. As Angelou’s thoughts are racing through her mind, Donleavy assures the crowd that if he is elected the school will receive new home economics and workshop equipment, as well as having “the only colored paved playing field in that part of Arkansas” (Angelou 29). Angelou understands that Donleavy’s speech is a mere preliminary towards his election. After Donleavy finishes his speech, he leaves as quickly as he entered the auditorium.

The remainder of graduation is lost in the unpleasantness that was left behind. Angelou claims that her own name has lost its meaning. Henry Reed delivers his valedictory address to the students. After his speech, he turns to the graduating class and leads them in singing the Negro national anthem. Angelou testifies that she has never heard the words before, even though she has sung them thousands of times. “We were on top again. As always, again. We survived” (Angelou 31). Angelou expresses that the students can be proud of graduating again and proud to be part of the Negro race. Graduation” is classified as a personal narrative. The themes are identity and education. The essay can be found in Angelou’s autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. ” The autobiography describes how living in the south during the Depression was a time for survival (Ball). The message of “Graduation” is the same; no matter what obstacles arise she will survive. Angelou deserves an “A” for this essay because she has strong examples of overcoming obstacles, sophisticated descriptions, and has a clear sense of purpose with strong development.

Angelou’s example of overcoming adversity is the strongest at the end of the essay. “Something unrehearsed, unplanned, was going to happen, and we were going to be made to look bad” (Angelou 26). As she is sitting there as a young girl at her graduation, she can feel the unwelcoming presence of the speaker’s words and actions. Before the speaker begins his political rant of what he has brought to the white community, Angelou anticipates that the graduating class is going to be shamed. Angelou believes the speaker’s words, and starts to doubt her hopes and dreams. The man’s dead words fell like bricks around the auditorium and too many settled in my belly” (Angelou 28). As Henry Reed starts to sing the Negro national anthem, Angelou finally senses that the words do have meaning to her. Nearly every event that Angelou mentions in her autobiography has one of two different aims. The aim she uses in this essay is how she faces obstacles, overcomes them, and prevails (Ball). Angelou’s sophisticated imageries can be seen in numerous examples throughout the essay. This is her strongest quality in the essay, and makes the essay easier to envision.

Angelou slightly jumps from a general high school senior graduation to her own eighth grade graduation in the beginning of the essay. However, readers can easily close their eyes and imagine what is happening. Most readers can relate to when they were seniors and how it felt to reign over the school. Another example of Angelou’s detailed descriptions is when she talks about her grandmother making her graduation dress. She smocked the yoke into tiny crisscrossing puckers, then 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. Before she considered herself finished she has added a crocheted cuff on the puff sleeves, and a pointy crocheted collar (Angelou 22) Angelou’s control of words as she depicts events, like making a dress, recounting the smell of refreshments being made, and seeing the tired faces at graduation bring her stories to life. Angelou’s message of survival is clear in the essay and is presented with thorough explanations and logical ordering.

In an interview, Angelou describes her autobiographical style for readers to understand. I’ve used, or tried to use, the form of the Black minister in storytelling so that each event I write about has a beginning, middle, and an end. And I have tried to make the selections graduate so that each episode is a level, whether of narration or drama, well always dramatic, but a level of comprehension like a staircase (Smelstor and Bruce). This “level of comprehension” sets Angelou apart. As a young black girl growing up in Stamps, graduating from high school was usually as far as people went in their education.

Some may argue that because Angelou grew up during the Depression, and had a child at a young age, that she is not qualified to write. However, she has over thirty published poems, non-fiction stories, and children’s books. All of these writings demonstrate intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growths in Angelou (Smelstor and Bruce). Angelou’s strong examples, complex descriptions, and clear message of survival supported by solid development are why “Graduation” is an “A” essay. Although Donleavy’s words are something Angelou may never forget, they help her find her true self on the graduation stage. The portrayal of Angelou’s search for identity is memorable, and her story of survival is inspiring. Angelou is no longer a singing caged bird.

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