If today’s inauguration wasn’t already emotional for most of us, it was definitely so when Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman shared the heartfelt words she wrote for the historic event. The 22-year-old Los Angeles native captured the patriotic power and beauty of the moment with her poem entitled “The Hill We Climb,” a piece that was both personal and evocative of the shared American experience.
A little background on Gorman- she was born and raised in the Westchester area of Los Angeles, and turned to writing to help deal with a speech impediment when she was a child. Gorman joined the L.A.-based WriteGirl program (which we featured on our cover in March of last year) at the age 14, participating in the organization’s monthly creative writing workshops focused on poetry and songwriting.
In addition to workshops helping girls and non-binary youth explore writing, the basis of WriteGirl is matching working writers with young women for one-on-one mentorships. Gorman took part in this inspiring program and was named the first-ever Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate while still involved with WriteGirl (at the age of 16). The group hosted an online watch party during the inauguration for volunteers, teens and alumnae.
“WriteGirl has been pivotal in my life. It’s been thanks to their support that I’ve been able to chase my dreams as a writer,” Gorman is quoted on the WriteGirl website. “Special shout-out to my former mentors Michelle and Dinah. Couldn’t have gotten here without you!”
Gorman made history in 2016 when she was named the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States and is the youngest to earn the title. Today she became the youngest poet to share her work at a presidential inauguration (previous poets have included Maya Angelou and Robert Frost). A recent cum laude graduate from Harvard University, and she has two Penguin/Random House books coming soon including a poetry collection and a children’s book called Change Sings.
Thank you! I would be nowhere without the women whose footsteps I dance in. While reciting my poem, I wore a ring with a caged bird—a gift from @Oprah for the occasion , to symbolize Maya Angelou, a previous inaugural poet. Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before. https://t.co/5Tegd20sko
— Amanda Gorman (@TheAmandaGorman) January 20, 2021
Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” is excerpted below:
Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans, and the world.
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never ending shade?
The loss we carry, a sea. We must wade.
We’ve graved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.
In the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it. Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that it isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and the 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.
And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country, committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else say, this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried that will forever be tied together victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade the hill we climb.
If only we dare it’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter or nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded, but while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated in this truth.
In this faith we trust for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. This is the era of just redemption.
We feared it in its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of of such a terrifying hour, but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter.
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be a country that is bruised.
But whole benevolence, but bold, fierce, and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blenders become their burdens, but one thing is certain.
If we merged mercy with the mights into might with right, a night then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than one.
We were left with every breath, my bronze pounded chest.
We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the gold limbed hills of the West.
We will rise from the wind swept to Northeast where our forefathers first realized the revolution.
We will rise from the lake when cities of the middle Western States.
We will arise from the sun baked South.
We will rebuild, reconciled and recover and every known nook over a nation.
And every corner called our country.
Our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid, the new dawn balloons, as we free it.
For there was always light.
If only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
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