Dr. Maya Angelou laughs during her opening remarks of An Evening with Maya Angelou at York College of Pennsylvania Collegiate Performing Arts Center on
Dr. Maya Angelou laughs during her opening remarks of An Evening with Maya Angelou at York College of Pennsylvania Collegiate Performing Arts Center on Monday. (Bill Kalina photo)

The students of York College now belong to Maya Angelou.

The 84-year-old world famous author and poet claimed them as her students while speaking Monday at the Collegiate Performing Arts Center at York College.

She instructed men to read poetry written by women and women to read poetry written by men. She also told her audience to read works written by people from various cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

Angelou also taught them to appreciate, respect and learn languages spoken around the world.

"Languages, poetry belongs to you," she said. "If human beings use the language, so can you."

Angelou's one-hour appearance was coordinated by the college's Campus Activities Board. During her event, Angelou cited poetry, including that written by Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare and Anne Spencer.

She also recited her work, including "I know why the caged bird sings."

Angelou also talked about her life, recalling her decision to stop talking for several years as a young girl after her rapist - her mother's boyfriend - was found dead after he was released from jail.

"I thought my voice killed him," Angelou said.

During her silent years, she read and memorized poetry. Angelou said her grandmother told her that she would one day be a teacher around the world.

Angelou went on become a speaker and teacher of several languages, including French, Spanish and Italian. She worked with civil rights leaders, the Rev. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. She read her poem "On the Pulse of the Morning," during the 1993 inauguration ceremony for President Bill Clinton.

Angelou, also a three-time Grammy winner, played Kunta Kinte's grandmother in the series "Roots."

During Monday's appearance, Angelou encouraged her students to remember they are not alone in their experiences.

"Someone was here before you, lonely before you, abandoned before you, bullied before you ... and miraculously they survived," she said.

Ryan Stango, a 19-year-old York College freshmen, said Angelou has a "caring voice" that shows her wisdom and compassion for people.

"I liked how she spoke about the power of poetry and how it got her through the tough times in life," he said.

Owen Kendall, 20, a junior majoring in computer engineering, said he's now interested in learning more about Angelou's life and work.

"I liked that part where she let us know that we are not alone," he said. "We can (connect) our feelings with others, understand our feelings from someone else's perspective.

For Erik[eya: cq: ] Knight, 20, Angelou seemed approachable and down-to-earth. Angelou's talk inspired him to read poems, the biology major said.

"I started to read more poetry when I was young and kind of got away from doing that," he said. "I will definitely get back to it now."

Rachel Snyder, a professor teaching playwriting and theater at the college, said Angelou's appearance was a once-in-a-lifetime event for her and the college's students.

"She is someone of international value and worldwide worth," Snyder said. "When she talked, you felt as though she knew you and she wanted you to know her. The things she shared - she was so open."

-Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at emcmillan@yorkdispatch.com.