In the year 1940, 75 years after slavery was abolished, African Americans were still experiencing hateful and demoralizing discrimination. In Maya Angelou's "Graduation," she describes her roller coaster of emotions on her 8th grade graduation day. Angelou was an acclaimed poet, author, dancer, actress, playwright, director, and civil rights activist. In 1993, she recited her poem, "On the Pulse of the Morning," at President Clinton's inauguration. However, it was Angelou's legendary writings that set her apart. Her autobiography, I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings, was nominated for numerous awards, and remains an essential book for many. Through a variety of literary techniques, such as metaphor, simile, personification, and imagery, Angelou presents the hardships of being a young black citizen in America during 1940 in "Graduation". Yet, it was the racist speech that Mr. Donleavy gave that led Angelou to a personal realization. As Angelou recounts her graduation experience in 1940 from an individual perspective and a crowd's reaction, she provides an in depth look into discrimination, self-evolution, and how perseverance can be one's most valuable trait. .
Angelou begins her story by describing the pure excitement and anticipation that the town of Stamps, Arkansas felt surrounding the graduation. For any student, like Angelou, a graduation is meant to be an uplifting, proud, and significant moment in one's life. Because African Americans were still experiencing discrimination in 1940, the event of a graduation symbolized great honor and achievement. Angelou proclaims, "Oh, it was important, all right" (Angelou 22). It is obvious to the readers that the citizens of Stamps, Arkansas viewed the graduation day less as a ceremony, and more like a holiday. Moreover, Angelou lists a variety of examples that display how the town and her family were elated for the graduation.