The 2021 inauguration was a historical moment for many reasons, not least of which was the awe-inspiring poetry reading by a young Harvard graduate. When Amanda Gorman recited her original poem, “The Hill We Climb,” she became the youngest poet to write and recite a piece at a presidential inauguration.
“Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed / a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished / We, the successors of a country and a time / Where a skinny Black girl / descended from slaves and raised by a single mother / can dream of becoming President / only to find herself reciting for one.”
The five-minute poem captured the significance of the inauguration – with Kamala Harris as the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian to be elected vice president of the US – and implored the nation to heal, unify and not lose hope.
Gorman’s beautiful delivery garnered enthusiastic, positive reactions from around the globe – as did her radiant ensemble.
“I really wanted to use my words to be a point of unity and collaboration and togetherness,” Gorman shared in an interview with the BBC prior to the ceremony.
This wasn’t the first time Gorman captivated an audience. In 2017, Dr. Jill Biden first came across a video of Gorman performing her poem, ”In Thie Place: An American Lyric,” at the Library of Congress, after which Dr. Biden said, “I saw this video of you and you were wearing yellow and I loved it.”
First Lady Biden would later ask Gorman to write an original poem for President Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, where Gorman’s bright-yellow jacket would become as much a statement as her poetry.
A Los Angeles native, Gorman was raised by her mother, a sixth grade English teacher, who she would recite poems to from a young age. Due to a speech impediment, Gorman had difficulty pronouncing certain letters of the alphabet, but wielded the challenge as an opportunity to excel in writing and reading.
“I would be in the bathroom scribbling five minutes before, trying to figure out if I could say ‘Earth’ or if I can say ‘girl’ or if I can say ‘poetry.’ And you know, doing the best with the poem I could,” she recalls in an interview with NPR.
From there, her tenacity paid off greatly, being named Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at 16 followed by the first National Youth Poet Laureate just three years later. With a wide range of appearances, from MTV to the Library of Congress, Gorman’s strive for greatness would propel her to the performance of a lifetime.
If fate will have it, the next time Gorman attends the inauguration, it may be for her own presidency. “I for one can’t wait,” tweeted former First Lady Hillary Clinton.