Much of Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris felt like a balm to a wounded nation’s soul, especially 22-year-old Amanda Gorman’s beautiful recitation of the inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
Gorman, who was named the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017 and is the youngest person to ever deliver an inaugural poem (as well as being an honoree for The Root’s Young Futurists in 2019), told the New York Times she finished writing the poem on the night of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
And it makes sense, given that her words so perfectly captured the challenges and possibilities that are now before us after the swearing-in of President Biden and Vice President Harris. In a verse that powerfully acknowledged the role she was playing in American history, Gorman said this is “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 rest of the poem was similarly lyrical and inspiring. An excerpt:
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 our 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 at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
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 we once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
Gorman follows in the footsteps of Maya Angelou, who read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of former President Bill Clinton in 1993. Another fun fact: the lovely earrings and birdcage ring that Gorman wore at the inauguration were gifted to her by Oprah, who also sent Angelou a gift before her own historic moment.