Michelle Obama: Dr. Maya Angelou ‘Wanted All of Us to Be Phenomenal’

To rousing applause, the first lady said that the late poet’s inspiration helped propel her from Chicago's South Side to the White House.

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Michelle Obama and Maya Angelou speak during the BET Honors 2012 at the Warner Theatre on January 14, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Kris Connor/Getty Images

First lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and President Bill Clinton were among scores of luminaries, friends and family who gathered Saturday at a memorial service to celebrate the late Dr. Maya Angelou at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say,” the first lady said of the poet and civil rights activist. “Instead she said, 'each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory.' She reminded us that we must each find our own voice, decide our own value and then announce it to the world with all the pride and joy that is our birthright as members of the human race.

“Dr. Angelou’s words sustained me on every step of my journey, through lonely moments in ivy covered classrooms and colorless skyscrapers, through blissful moments mothering two splendid baby girls, through long years on the campaign trail where at times my very womanhood was dissected and questioned,” the first lady continued. “For me that was the power of Maya Angelou’s words. Words so powerful that they carried a little black girl from the South Side of Chicago all the way to the White House.”

Michelle Obama was not the only one to deliver a powerful panegyric on the inspiration of Dr. Angelou, who died on May 28 at the age of 86 at her home in North Carolina.

Oprah Winfrey described Angelou as her “spiritual queen mother, and everything that word implies. She was the ultimate teacher. She taught me the poetry of courage and respect.”

President Clinton said of her death: “God loaned her her voice and he decided he wanted it back for a while.”

Only friends and family were invited to attend the service, which was livestreamed by Wake Forest. Additional memorials are planned for later in other parts of the country. Instead of gifts, the family is requesting that donations be made to the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest.

Watch the full service here.