Chapel is a theater of dreams for fans of world-class performances

Swasey 100
March 8, 2024

John Jackson sat mesmerized as he listened to Maya Angelou recite her poem “Still I Rise” to a packed house in Swasey Chapel on Sept. 24, 1993.

The associate professor emeritus and former chapel dean had heard the famous poem performed many times by Denison students at Black history functions. But here was its author, once described by The New York Times as the “lyrical witness of the Jim Crow South,” holding the audience in her spell, building momentum with each stanza.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

“I have rarely experienced such unanimity of response in such a diverse crowd,” Jackson said of Angelou, recipient of the 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The first event of the 1993-94 Vail Series was billed as An Evening With Maya Angelou. The author of the landmark book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings received a standing ovation at night’s end.

Celebrating its 100-year anniversary, Swasey Chapel continues its legacy of hosting some of the world’s most renowned lecturers, authors, academics, musicians, entertainers, politicians, and cultural icons.

Yo-Yo Ma. Itzhak Perlman. Renee Fleming. Steve Carell ’84. G. Gordon Liddy. James Baker. George Will. Bob Dole. Madeleine Albright. Eudora Welty. Michael Starbird. Mariana Ortega. Amor Towles.

These are just a few of the titans in their field to appear on the chapel stage. This photo gallery looks back at some of the memorable guests who graced the Swasey stage.

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