Tag Archive: Maya Angelou

Light on a Darkened Path


Maya Angelou spoke of the tenacious human spirit in her poem And Still I Rise. Viktor Frankl wrote about a choice of attitude in stories about his experience in a concentration camp. Malala Yousafzai speaks about the importance of our voices when others attempt to silence them. Mother Theresa’s actions spoke louder than her words. There are multiple examples, historical and current, that bring light in times when you perceive a gathering darkness.

imageDouglas Abrams’ book, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, contains dialogues between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The wisdom shared in the dialogues from one man who lost his country when exiled from Tibet and the other who was the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, is sagacious, healing, and empowering. Here are ten quotes from the book:

“As one of the seven billion human beings, I believe everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need, ultimately, to have a greater concern for others’ well-being. In other words, kindness or compassion, which is lacking now. We must pay more attention to our inner values. We must look inside.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” Dalai Lama

“Then after 1959, when I left Tibet, I started thinking, These people are just like me, same human being. If we think we are something special or not special enough, then fear, nervousness, stress, and anxiety arise. We are the same.” Dalai Lama

“Too much fear brings frustration. Too much frustration brings anger. So that’s the psychology, the system of mind, of emotion, which creates a chain reaction. With a self-centered attitude, you become distanced from others, then distrust, then feel insecure, then fear, then anxiety, then frustration, then anger, then violence.” Dalai Lama

“If you really feel a sense of concern for the well-being of others, then trust will come. That’s the basis of friendship.” Dali Lama

“…the more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others. But in a surprising way, what the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were saying is that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Douglas Abrams

“But this being on earth is a time for us to learn to be good, to learn to be more loving, to learn to be more compassionate. And you learn, not theoretically, you learn when something happens that tests you.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“If we can have compassion for ourselves, and acknowledge how we feel afraid, hurt, or threatened, we can have compassion for others—possibly even for those who have evoked our anger.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“The way through the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.” Dalai Lama

“You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Our collaborative purpose at SUNY Plattsburgh is focused on the success of our students. Doing this well during rancorous times in our country will take a mindful approach to modeling in words and actions. I wish each of you peace, purpose, and joy as we continue to create a caring community and world together.


Bonus: Maya Angelou shares the importance of words we speak in this 1 minute 27 second video.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
• Respect and Empathy
• Lifelong Learning/Growth
• Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
• Social Justice
• Broad Minded


Abrams, D.C. (2016). The book of joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world. New York: Avery.

Light image (n.d.) Retrieved November 13, 2016 from: http://www.rabbisacks.org/the-road-less-travelled-published-in-the-islamic-monthly/

Book of Joy image(n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Joy-Lasting-Happiness-Changing/dp/0399185046/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477839575&sr=8-1&keywords=The+book+of+joy

Mr. Wilson

“In 1889 the New York State Legislature established in Plattsburgh a school for the education of teachers, the New York State Normal and Training School.  Two years later the first three students graduated from the institution that would one day evolve into SUNY Plattsburgh”  (2007 Middle States PRR report).  The motto for the college is, “A Proud Past, A Strong Future.”  I thought about our past and this motto in the context of an open forum I sat in last week that addressed an offensive cartoon published by an independent, student-run newspaper (i.e., There was no editorial role by a faculty member before the paper was published due to first amendment rights).  The paper wounded and exposed deeper wounds, some of which are caused by institutional racism in our society, and, as a result, has served as a catalyst for understanding and a call to action.  The standing-room-only forum was held by the Black Student Union, AKEBA, to discuss what happened.  So many things crossed my mind and touched my heart at the forum and I will share a few.

I thought about:

  • James Augustus Wilson (pictured above), who began his studies in teacher education at our college in 1898 and was the first African American to attend and graduate from our college. He was an alum who went on to get a second bachelor’s degree in divinity at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and eventually worked with Booker T. Washington (Skopp, 1989);
  • LaVerne Baker, one of my mentors, who was one of two African American women to be the first to graduate with Ph.D.s from my alma mater, Wichita State University; if you have been in my office, you have seen her picture on my desk;
  • how Mr. Wilson and Dr. Baker would each define current events and what has and has not changed in the last 117 years;
  • my white privilege and the period of my younger life when I was naive to it, something that is the case for many young, white college students and on another level by others who are not so young in our community;
  • the voices from all underrepresented groups that need to be present to have a complete conversation about equality and social justice because there are differences in the struggles of each group (i.e., one group does not speak for all groups);
  • the young men of Delta Sigma Phi who I sat with at the forum as a faculty advisor, who have one of the more racially diverse groups on campus and a shared value of diversity –  I saw the pain in their eyes and felt it in their hearts;
  • how the members of AKEBA, the Black Student Union, modeled how to have difficult conversations that value the need to feel uncomfortable while maintaining everyone’s dignity; and
  • how I loved the gathering of diverse students at the forum, a sentiment that went beyond racial diversity, but hated the reason we were there.

That is a sampling of a few thoughts I had during the forum, but I also had another thought that night that centered on what I shared in our EHHS Community Gathering at the beginning of this semester.  It was during that gathering that I discussed the New Civil Rights Movement.  I highlighted words from Gyasi Ross, a Native American from the Blackfeet Nation who is an author, speaker, lawyer and storyteller.

Gyasi Ross

Here are the words I shared from Gyasi Ross (2015):

  • “If folks truly want to be allies then they’re going to have to get cool with uncomfortable conversations.”
  • “White folks don’t ever want to talk about race.  It will ALWAYS be jarring, it will ALWAYS be disruptive and it will ALWAYS be inconvenient. Yet, we have to do it.”
  • “If they truly wish to be an effective ally, then they should WANT to feel the discomfort that we feel when we’re constantly confronted with questions of race.”

There was a lot of discomfort felt over the past week, and this is a good thing.  Looking back, Gyasi Ross’ words were the most powerful words I shared at the beginning of the semester that have defined where we are now in the conversations taking place on campus.  I am pleased that the conversations have resulted in the actions detailed by our President that will enhance the caring environment we value at SUNY Plattsburgh.

I look forward to leaning into more discomfort and invite everyone else to lean with me because I know this is the place where we all grow.  We do have a proud past at SUNY Plattsburgh.  We also are engaged in conversations to know better and actions to do better that create a powerful present and a strong future.

Crucial Reading: This article from the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy is your opportunity to lean into the conversation with me: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Maya Do better 2

                                                EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • Demonstrated awareness, knowledge, and skills
  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Self-reflection
  • Caring attitude
  • Courage to discuss sensitive issues and “sit with discomfort”
  • Continued learning, challenging and changing of our attitudes

Social Justice

  • Recognize social justice issues
  • Advocate to enhance social change
  • Enhance community responsibility/social responsibility


DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3 (3) pp 54-70.

Maya Angelou Image (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2015 from http://www.azquotes.com/quote/394295

Middle States Commission on Higher Education Periodic Review Report (2007).

Ross, G. (2015): http://www.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/08/13/22694043/guest-editorial-i-support-bernie-sanders-for-president-and-i-also-support-the-black-lives-matter-takeover-in-seattle

Skopp, D. (1989). Bright with promise: From the normal and training school to SUNY Plattsburgh. Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Company/Publishers.



Meaningful Conversations

Convergence Blog

An American philosopher, Tom Morris, when asked what mattered in life, responded by saying, “I believe everything matters.”  This is especially true of communication, it all matters.  When you come into my office, you see the abstract painting shown above on my wall.  This painting represents a conversation. The green and blue lines symbolize two speakers with multiple perspectives.  You will notice that the brightest colors are in the middle of the painting where the speakers multiple perspectives intersect.  These four brightly colored areas symbolize discovery and a deepening of understanding.

Our shared values contain a statement that came from Stephen Covey who said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  He also said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  One of my early mentors in the field of Communication Disorders and Sciences was Dr. Kenneth Burk, who used to say that listening well is hard work.  When people are “in the zone” of good communication, they listen and then ask questions that clarify or reveal more depth about what is being said.  After someone says something, it may take a few seconds to develop a good question.  Herein lies another important skill modeled by Dr. Burk, the ability to be comfortable with a few seconds of silence as meaningful questions are formed.  He knew the power of silence and was comfortable with it when forming questions and when waiting for responses.

As a Speech-Language Pathologist and a leader, I understand the complexity of communication and the extra effort needed to do it well.  The speed, tone, consonantal stress, nonverbals, and the right words all matter.  Maya Angelou once said, “Words are things, I’m convinced. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes, and finally, into you.  We must be careful about the words we use.” Whether it is with students or colleagues, it is worth the extra effort to bring your best self to the conversation by paying attention to the subtleties that expand horizons, heal wounds, or warm hearts..

Some conversations are difficult and may require courage.  The difficult conversations invite us to be mindful about the previously mentioned communicative subtleties.  This mindfulness preserves the dignity of all who are communicating or conveys empathy with others in clinical/practicum sites.  I challenge my graduate students each week with clinical scenarios where they practice coming up with the right words to respond to patients or parents; this is time well spent.

Good communicative interactions create positive energy.  We feel a deeper engagement with students and our colleagues as this happens and experience a warping of time where minutes evaporate quickly.  Those instances where we say, “Where did the time go?” provide an energy all their own.  You feel this energy, for example, when teaching classes where students are highly engaged or when communicating with colleagues where the sharing of multiple perspectives creates deeper understanding or new ideas.

The name of my painting is Convergence, a coming together if you will.  Thoughtful conversations empower our community to come together for the betterment of everyone so we can fulfill our mission of preparing students for academic, professional and personal success.  As in the painting, this is where you will find the brightest spaces.

Maya Angelou quote (2012). Retrieved February 16, 2014 from: http://jewishpostopinion.com/?page_id=1608

Covey, S. (1989 ). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Free Press.

Thomas V. Morris http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_V._Morris

Dr. Burk2
Dr. Kenneth Burk


At the EHHS Community Gathering, I asked you to imagine the best possible academic learning environment.  When I asked you to imagine this, there were at least two avenues of thought that could have been taken.  One is student focused with an emphasis on the learning environment in the classroom and the other is the learning environment we create in departments and programs through interactions with colleagues that students feel when they come for advisement or for office hours; students clearly are part of both environments.

There are larger environmental contexts that influence learning too.  Many “isms” and societal issues are attached to the larger contexts.  I was in awe of some comments from Maya Angelou who recently was interviewed by Anderson Cooper about equality and what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream means today.  At the end of the interview, Mr. Cooper referred to a Time Magazine article in which Maya Angelou wrote, “Can you imagine if we did not have this undergirded hate, racism, sexism, and ageism; if we were not crippled by these idiocies? Can you imagine what our country would be like?”  Anderson then asked, “How can you answer those questions? Can you imagine?”  Maya Angelou said, “Yes, I’m brought to weep when I think what my country can be and will be when we develop enough courage to act courageously and with courtesy and respect for each other.  Just imagine, we wouldn’t have to say we are the most powerful country in the world, we will be the most powerful country in the world.  Not because we have might, but because we have right.”

Maya Angelou spoke about respect, the highest ranked shared value in our community.  When asked to imagine, as when you were asked to imagine the best possible academic learning environment, the theme of respect comes to the forefront.  Respect, in a larger context or in the context of a learning environment is central to success.  Below, please find the comments from all groups about creating the best academic learning environment.  All comments relate to the classroom.  Comments marked by an asterisk also are crucial for respectful interactions between colleagues in departments/programs to make ourselves and our students feel safe in our environments.  If we have the courage to put all of the comments into action, imagine the power of our Division to transform the lives of our students and ourselves.

Group 1

  1. * Trust between students and faculty
  2. * Availability and responsiveness
  3. Tell them we are there to help them with clear expectations from us
  4. * Flexibility
  5. * Open communication

Group 2

  1. Model respect for your students; clear expectations
  2. Create classroom rules (e.g., how to interact)
  3. * Practice active listening
  4. * Develop mutual understating about nurturing
  5. Develop safe learning environment
  6. * Be open
  7. * Provide Support
  8. * Open communication

Group 3

  1. * Non-judgmental
  2. * Mutual trust – relationship
  3. * Not afraid to make mistakes – constructive feedback while avoiding the negative
  4. * Support for exploration and experimenting
  5. * Establish mutual respect and a climate of trust
  6. Clear expectations and parameters
    1. Gradual progression
    2. Support throughout the process

Group 4

  1. * Provide support
  2. * Be available
  3. * Be visible
  4. Seek out professional development to ensure you are current with research-based best practices
  5. * Practice professionalism
  6. * Collaboration
  7. Learning communities
  8. * Don’t be a silo or
  9. Don’t have a closed door classroom
  10. * Communicate
  11. * Relate
  12. * Celebrate

Group 5

  1. Get to know your students
  2. * Respect
  3. * Safe to take risks – nonjudgmental
  4. Multiple ways to engage students – read the students and adapt to them
  5. Classes should make sense by relating to their life
  6. Planned flexibility

Group 6

  1. Know the students and understand why they are here
  2. Be open to students’ thoughts and ideas
  3. * Build relationships
  4. * Create an environment where we and they are involved
  5. [Encourage students to] have an open mind to their peers
  6. * Model the behaviors we hope to see
  7. Class has to have something meaningful to students
  8. * Establish how to give and receive feedback
  9. * Value mistakes
  10. Focus on whole learning  – reach all aspects of our students
  11. Understand the “beginners mind” – we must respect where our students are in their development
  12. Let our students know we don’t know everything and we can learn from them
  13. Promote creativity – allow them to wander around their thoughts and ideas

Bonus:  “…. courage comes from when we turn not from each other but toward each other and we find we do not walk alone, that’s where courage comes from.”  President Barack Obama (Speech on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington)

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