During the presidential inauguration, on January 21st, we were gifted with the sight of the refreshingly beautiful and talented young poet Amanda Gorman.
Amid lingering fears from the Capitol attack, Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb”, grasped the difficult political moment of the country, while offering hope and a path for the future. Her radiant happiness and energy as she performed her poem was a balm to the spirit of most of her audience that saw her as symbol for a new generation and a new administration. Her performance was symbolic in other ways as well: The first National Youth Poet Laureate (2017), recent Harvard graduate and, at 22 years of age, the youngest poet to read at a US presidential inauguration, which also inaugurated the first woman and first African-American Vice-President. Her sunny yellow coat and red headband were an homage to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, and who, in 1972, was the first African-American woman to seek a presidential candidacy.
Watching Amanda Gorman’s poise, and her graceful reading of her poem, one would never believe that her own path to that moment (to that hill) was not easy. According to her biographical Wikipedia page, Gorman was born with an “auditory processing disorder” that caused a speech impediment. In interviews, she details her struggle and explains how, exactly because she had to learn and train herself to pronounce words, she fell in love with them – the sound and the meaning of words made her realize their importance. In a 2018 interview on the Today Show, Amanda Gorman explained how she realized that the need to express her inner voice was greater than her worries about how other people heard her. She is an activist and uses her poetry, her voice, to call attention to issues of race, feminism, oppression and marginalization.
Such a wise and talented young poet is among a very select group of Americans. Only four presidents in American History have ever had a poet read a specially commissioned poem during their presidential inauguration.
- John F. Kennedy, 1961: Robert Frost, “The Gift Outright”
- Bill Clinton, 1993: Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning”
- Bill Clinton, 1997: Miller Williams, “Of History and Hope”
- Barack Obama, 2009: Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the Day”
- Barack Obama, 2013: Richard Blanco, “One Today”
- Joe Biden, 2021: Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”
If you would like to learn more about these poets and their poetry, please check these links:
You can learn more about Amanda Gorman through these links: