The Tau Sigma Dance Fraternity performs a celebratory dance during the winter convocation in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 1
The Tau Sigma Dance Fraternity performs a celebratory dance during the winter convocation in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King Day Speaker Myrtle Figueras Tells Brenau Students to ‘Write Your Own Songs’

Jan 14, 2014
Brenau Staff

Long-time Gainesville political leader and teacher Myrtle Figueras challenged Brenau University students Tuesday not to so much press for change in society as to “be the change you want to see.”

Figueras, a long-time member of the Gainesville City Council and the former mayor of the northeast Georgia city, was the keynote speaker at the university’s annual convocation honoring civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Life is really like a song – a song of joy, a song of peace, a song of love, a song of tranquility, a song of hope, and, like Dr. King, a song of justice, a song of equality for all human beings” she said. Then she asked the students: “Have you started to write your song yet?”

Mrytle Figueras address the Women's College student body, facutly and staff during Winter convocation
Mrytle Figueras address the Women’s College student body, faculty and staff during the annual winter convocation honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Figueras, who grew up on a south Georgia farm and became high school foreign languages teacher at Gainesville High School and an adjunct professor of French at Brenau, said that students must ask themselves the question, “What is really my purpose on this earth?” Then, they must use their educations to become the kind of persons they want to be.

“Intelligence plus character,” she said, “is a true goal of education.”

She challenged Brenau students to “…be the change that you want to see.” She concluded with a final question, and a final comment, “We will sing a new song, and we will march on until victory is won.”

In addition to Figueras’s speech, the program included a performance by the Brenau Gospel Choir and a performance of a celebratory dance by the Tau Sigma Dance Fraternity.

Please click the play button below to Figueras’s speech in its entirety.

View full transcript


Lea Mason:

Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Lea Mason, a retired school teacher Myrtle W. Figueras expanded her circle of influence and achievement beyond the classroom and a lifetime of community and public service. In addition to work throughout the years with many community and civic organizations, she was elected to post on the Gainesville City Council in 1996, and has since then served continuously including to two year terms as mayor of the Northeast Georgia City. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Bennett College in 1964, and a Master’s of Education Degree in 1974 from the University of Georgia. She has taught at Gainesville High School and has served as an adjunct professor of French at Brenau University from 1996 to 2002, and now serves as a tutor for French students at Ava White Tutorials. Currently Figueras holds board memberships with the Georgia Municipal Association, Hall County family connection board and Gainesville Planning Board. She regards among her highest achievements the establishment of a scholarship in her honor by North Georgia Community Foundation and annual award to Gainesville High students who demonstrate foreign foreign language proficiency and elect to pursue further studies in this field in college. Figueras, who lives here in Gainesville, continues to be a proud devoted citizen, dedicated to promoting her community through education. Please join me in giving a warm welcome to today’s keynote speaker miss Myrtle W. Figueras

Myrtle Figueras:

Okay, life is really fun. And I am thrilled to be standing here on this stage. [singing] “Jesus loves me this I know” or I could do it like Whitney. [singing] “Jesus loves me.” And we have all of these things in our heart. Because our world, our life is like a song. I like to sing. Of course, I can’t do it anymore. But thank you choir for doing the big beautiful job that you did. Life is really like a song a song of joy, a song of peace, a song of love. A Song of tranquility. A song of hope. And like Dr. King, a song of justice, a song of equality for all human beings. Have you started to write your song yet? Gandhi was a man who led the people from India toward independence from the British. He was met with physical, mental, emotional, and all kinds of blows and beatings. He was inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ. He worked for the freedom of our people. Jesus taught this is not political. It is a it is an example of a way of life. [singing] “Where he leads me I will follow.”

Yes, my life is like a song. Of all the things that exist. We breathe, we wake and we turn our lives into a song. When God asked you to step out, take it the first step, even though you don’t see where you’re going. Then you must use that whole staircase while wearing a glorious pair of shoes. Intelligence plus character is a true goal of education. I’m getting these quotes from everywhere, okay. It is very hard to make a comeback, if you’ve never made a start. Stop complaining and be the change that you want to see. Find the best in others leave the world a little bit better. Be thankful for what you got right now, because every day is a gift. Old age and I’m not old, even though she did tell you that I was, I came to Gainesville in 65 or something like that graduated or whatever. I’m old, okay. But being old is like putting your thoughts, your life, your experiences into a bank account. And you choose to draw from those experiences, you draw from all of those things that you’ve put in your bank account, in order to make yourself like a little drop of water. That is washing around in this great big ocean that God has given us. We surrender ourselves, to the oneness, to the to the divine. We are that drop of water in the ocean of God. Do I experience the infinite as I surrender to the holy oneness of God in all of this world? Like a 92 year old man once said, as he was walking into a nursing home, I’m gonna love it. The nurse said, Hey, man, you gotta love it. You haven’t even seen your room yet. He says, well, but I am drawing from my bank account of memories that I already have. Have you begun writing your peace? Your song of peace? Your song of justice, your song of love? Have you deposited any happiness? Any love? In your bank account? Have you deposited any service to humankind, to the faculty, to the staff, to all of the students, to all of the guests and friends and family at Brenau. Good afternoon. I’m seeking to free my heart from hatred. I’m establishing all kinds of things in my memory bank. I seek to live simply, I seek to give more and to expect less. You my Brenau friends, you are part of my memory bank. Because you’ve allowed me to come to this stage today. And gosh, I am not a speaker. Okay. But after my several years of serving in the Gainesville community, then I feel as though I am one, I come nowhere near the contributions that Martin Luther King made to this world. But I can be me. I can do what I can do. Right where God planted me. I choose to laugh a lot. Ya’ll laugh with me. I choose to write my song finding the best in others. And I would like to live this life and make this world a bit better than what it was when I came. Do you believe that you have a brighter day as a dance group did so wonderfully. [singing] “Oh, Lord, I want you to help me.” God wants you to adorn the world with His beauty. No matter what kind of hair day you’re having today. You’re supposed to adorn this world and make it a better place.

As I reflect on the life of Dr. King, his legacy is so unique. It’s impactful. It’s life changing. His legacy is touched and still is touching multitudes in these United States, and yes, in the entire world. Dr. King was a minister. He was a gospel minister of Jesus Christ. He was a civil rights activist in the sense that he followed the thought pattern of Gandhi, justice through non violence. He was a prolific writer, and a prize winning author, a father and a husband. When I consider all of his accomplishments, we can not come near what Martin Luther King did, but we can do the best that we can to make our world a better place to live. One of his quotes, one of his quotes was at the center of non violence, there’s the principle of love. It is it is difficult to reflect on the song of Dr. King, without considering his great love for mankind. He loved and he respected people, no matter who they were. It didn’t matter where they came from. Dr. King loved people. And he did all of the marches. He went to jail, he did all of those things, in the spirit of love. My short story, my short life, of course, I’m not old, I told you that. Okay, is that I am trying to be, I came from a family of eight siblings. And we shared a single mama. And her one thing was, you can be whatever you want to be. But you’ve got to think about others as you do it. We were not to use things outside of ourselves. We were to reflect on the inner stuff, the inner presence that is in us, so that we can do it now. Of course, when I went to college, my mom was making 15 510 $15 a week. And guess what? From the cotton fields of South Georgia, to the mayor’s office in Gainesville, Georgia. Here I am. If I did it, you can do it too. Along the way, I’ve had a 30 year stand at Gainesville High, what beautiful children I have young people, you are the most wonderful thing in the life of a teacher, believe that. You are important. You can be whatever you want to be. [singing] “Lord, have mercy on my little children.” This was my mom was prayer. She prayed out loud on her knees at the bed every night. And her prayer was have mercy on my little children, because they’re going into areas in life that they don’t know where they’re going. But, we made it. Dr. King could have become one of the statistics in Atlanta, Georgia, of immoral read up immoral lives. But he chose to become a Morehouse man. Of course, Morehouse was the brother school to Bennett college and I went to Bennett College, okay. And life was good. Okay. Dr. King lead just as other lives civil rights leaders lead, I received my inspiration from a guy called James Farmer. He was the leader of core the Congress on Racial Equality. And I participated in all of the marches in North Carolina, in the early 60s. And of course, our claim to fame was the silent march. I need you to look in your head, look in your heart. And silently think of one word that you would like to put in a song about your life. Did you get it there? My life in my silent moment was when I was in North Carolina, of course, I was a college student and college students thinks I can do anything. We were in the marches of all of them, okay. And we were in the sit downs, all of them. We enjoyed it, it was fine. Okay, but at the same time, at the core of this, at the core of all of this was I want to leave this world better for somebody else. But my silent moment, as I thought a few minutes ago, is why is it that they didn’t let me walk into the front door of that movie house. They let my husband go in Yes, my name is gonna crazy, but my husband was from Puerto Rico and all that kind of stuff.

But they did not allow me to go in the front door. They let him in. Blacks had to go to the balcony. And so my thought was, why? We are in a much better place now than we were then. But we’ve not made it. We still must have hope. Hope it will keep you looking incredibly like young. Martin Luther King led in love and with courage. And he said out loud many, many, many things that lots and lots of people were thinking, but they were afraid to say it out loud. Because they were afraid they’d lose their job. They were afraid they get beat up in the street. But Martin took it upon himself to say it out loud, he found a way to work on the powers that be. So the powers that be would understand that every man has a heart. And our hearts need to meet human heart to human heart, to make our world better.

The song of Figueras is a song of love, a song of peace, a song of opportunity. You yellow, brown, white, blue, green and purple people, every one of you has the opportunity to make life what you want it to be. You can become a teacher, you can become a member of the city council, you can have an opportunity to become mayor, you can do your job. I feel that I have something to offer. I believe that God has inspired me with something to offer to everybody. You can do whatever you want to do, as long as you try. Study your lesson girl. And I give you thoughts from my mama. If you do not prepare yourself, then you will not be able to do anything. If you walk around, and just don’t make but zero on a test. You’re not going anywhere. You need to prepare yourself to show up and show out. What are you doing for others? What are you doing for somebody else? Ladies and gentlemen, the Boys and Girls Club. Those young people need you to help them learn how to read. They need you to help them with their homework in the afternoon. The children at challenge child and friends, those developmental, disabled young people need you to stop over and say hello to them every once in a while. The Alliance for literacy strives to work to help adults read. We have in Gainesville, Georgia, many, many adults who cannot even read the newspaper. We need you. Your local church needs you to help with somebody work on those folks who are 80 and above or eight and below. Look at who you can help. Think about Habitat for Humanity. I love the Women Build program. It’s really good. And yes, I work with a lot of Brenau students as we were hammering nails, building a house to help somebody else. Casa anybody know what CASA is? Court Appointed Special Advocates. Okay. These young people need you these are children who go into the court system, and they need you to smile at them and to help them as they look at and face all the kinds of things that young people face in the court system. Center Point and Gainesville, Georgia teaches you how to be a mentor to somebody else. The food bank, Lord have mercy. Do we have hunger in Gainesville, Georgia? Yes, we need each other. Good News at Noon. Have you been over and checked out, those young people? Those people need you to serve a meal every once in a while. When you serve your community you’re keeping with the spirit of Dr. King, of Gandhi, and Figueras legacy, leadership and service Yes, I can Yes, I can. Oh, yes, I can. Can I? You must create your own song. You must live the way that Dr. King lived in that same spirit. We can choose to serve. We can choose to speak out. We can look at those people inside of our own circles if we don’t go outside of them. In the end our decaying said we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Have you started to write your song of justice? Have you started to write your song of realization? Your Self Realization? Have you thought about writing your song of self worth? Have you written your song of character? Have you written your song of courage? Have you started giving of yourself? Have you started supporting those people who can’t support themselves? Have you started working?

Have you started serving? Let it resound. Loud is rolling, see, and insisting that CEOs get data better. Okay? Our service to community and to others will be meaningful and empowering. Thank you for allowing me to talk to you for just a minute today. Valerie said I better not be too long because I’m trying to hurry up. Okay. But our life should be centered in love, in peace, in hope, in leadership, and in service to others. Who am I?

Why am I here on this earth? What is my song of contribution? Am I inspired by Gandhi? Am I inspired by Dr. King?

Am I inspired by Jesus Christ? Am I influencing anyone in my own circle of friends positively? What is really my purpose on this earth? Do I possess the basic skills to influence anyone? What is my song? Am I learning as much as I can? Am I sharing that knowledge with others? [singing] “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Yes, in this new year, we will sing a new song. And we will march on until victory is won. Thank you so much for allowing me to share for a moment or two. I pray that God will bless you in everything you do.

Lea Mason:

Thank you Mrs. Figueras. For those wonderful words of encouragement. Thank you for asking us to write our own song. As a small token of our appreciation. Brenau University is making a small donation to the scholarship in your name to the north Georgia Foundation. Thank you so much.