Noted author and screenwriter, Terry McMillan, was the featured speaker at Bennett College on Thursday, November 3, 2011. She was one of several prominent women, including Dr. Maya Angelou and Roslyn Brock, brought to the college as a Lift Every Voice speaker. The Lift Every Voice series is one component of the Academic Cultural Enrichment Series (ACES), which is a standing tradition at Bennett.
ACES gathers the entire campus community together in the chapel each Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. to hear speakers discuss their personal journeys to success and other issues that are relevant to students’ lives. The Lift Every Voice series, named after James Weldon Johnson’s famed “Negro National Anthem,” was established by Bennett’s 15th President, Dr. Julianne Malveaux.
The Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel was filled to near capacity with students, faculty, staff, and alumnae lining both the floor seats and the balcony. All of the campus community waited patiently to hear what inspiring and prophetic words McMillan brought with her to share.
Chardette Campbell, a freshman, had the privilege of presiding over the program. After Dr. Malveaux’s welcome and occasion, the prayer from the college’s chaplain, a scripture reading, and a musical selection from the choir, it was time for McMillan to rise and share her wisdom. She did not disappoint.
McMillan commanded attention as she stood to great applause. Rather than giving us a full speech, she chose to read a full chapter from “Getting to Happy,” the bestselling sequel to her successful novel and subsequent film, “Waiting to Exhale.” After spending 20 minutes reading the chapter on Bernadine, one of the heroines that we all know and love, McMillan opened the floor to questions from students. It was there that her foundation of knowledge overflowed.
When sophomore Torene Harvin, Journalism and Media Studies major asked McMillan how she gets happy and remains there, McMillan was more than willing to share.
“You never stay happy.” She continued. “All emotions are fleeting. You are going to get happy, angry, and sad and its okay to experience those emotions. As long as you know who you are, that’s all that matters.”
As Terry sat, I stood up to issue the final reflections.
“Thank you for coming today Ms. McMillan. On behalf of the entire Bennett College community, thank you for telling our stories. At the beginning of her speech, Ms. McMillan said that she was once young. I must disagree. Ms. McMillan is forever young. Her words are as fresh to us today as they were when my mother finally gave me her copy of Waiting to Exhale. The pages were so bent from being read so often, I had to hold them down to get through them. Now, after having read Waiting to Exhale five times in the past six years, I am still connected to Bernadine, Savannah, Gloria, and Robin because they are us. Thank you for telling our stories and giving us the power to tell our own. Belles, we are never too young to start telling our stories. You might get angry, discouraged, or have to work harder than your white counterparts, but once your story is told that can never be undone. You can never unring a Belle.”