A 22-year-old Los Angeles native became the youngest inaugural poet when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony Wednesday.
Amanda Gorman emphasized unity for the country as she read the line, “We lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but to what stands before us.”
Her composition also acknowledged the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol and sent a message of hope for the future. The poem, which she penned the night of the Capitol siege, reads, in part:
“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.”
She concluded her roughly five-minute reading with a final message: “The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it.”
Oprah Winfrey, in a tweet, said: “I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering – and so am I.”
Gorman responded with her own tweet, writing, “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.”
Gorman turned to writing at an early age in an attempt to cope with her speech impediment. At age 14, she joined WriteGirl, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that helps teen girls discover the power of their voice through creative writing.
Throughout her high school years at New Roads School in Santa Monica, Gorman attended WriteGirl’s monthly creative writing workshops and was matched with writing mentors for one-on-one mentoring.
“WriteGirl has been pivotal in my life,” she said. “It’s been thanks to their support that I’ve been able to chase my dreams as a writer.”
WriteGirl Executive Director Keren Taylor said she had “no doubt Amanda’s messages of hope, unity and justice will help us all heal and move forward.”
Gorman was selected in 2014 as the first Los Angeles youth poet laureate and in 2017 as the first national youth poet laureate. She graduated in May from Harvard University with a degree in sociology.
Gorman has two books forthcoming, including her first children’s book, “Change Sings,” set to be published in September.
Gorman was the sixth poet to perform at a presidential inauguration, continuing an intermittent tradition begun in 1961 when Robert Frost recited “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. The previous youngest was Richard Blanco, who was 44 when he read “One Today” at Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.
All the inaugural poets have performed at the swearings-in of Democratic presidents.
The inauguration of Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice president began at 7:30 a.m. PST. Gorman’s performance followed a rendition of the national anthem by Lady Gaga and a musical performance by Jennifer Lopez.
The ceremony featured vigorous health and safety protocols, including face coverings and social distancing to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, and the public was strongly encouraged to refrain from traveling to Washington, D.C. A field of American flags were placed in the National Mall to represent the many people who otherwise would have been there to watch the inauguration for the 46th president.
Other inaugural events also were converted to virtual events, including the “Parade Across America,” billed by the inaugural committee as featuring diverse, dynamic performances in communities in all 56 states and territories, celebrating America’s heroes, and highlighting the diversity, heritage and resilience of the nation.
The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles was to be among the parade participants as part of DJ Cassidy’s “Pass The Mic,” which will also feature Earth Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers and Kathy Sledge.
The chorus was formed in 2015. It describes itself as the nation’s first all trans-identified chorus, consisting of transgender, non-binary, intersex, gender-non-conforming and gender-fluid individuals.
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