No one knew what to expect at the 46th Presidential Inauguration ceremony. The media portended violence and the National Guard stood by. Many expected the worse, but all hoped for the best. Meanwhile, we got a glimpse into who would attend and awaited the stars who would be performing at the ceremony.
But when Inauguration Day arrived, we all got a surprise. No violence, thank God. And as always, the stars wowed us with their beautiful performances. But the real star of the day was Amanda Gorman, a little known “skinny black girl,” as she calls herself. At 22 years old, the diminutive Gorman is a powerhouse barely contained in a petite body. She is the youngest National Youth Poet Laureate in the nation, and as soon as she begins speaking, it is obvious that the title is well-deserved.
When Gorman began reading the poem she wrote for the occasion, entitled, “The Hill We Climb, everything else seemed to fade away. She immediately took command of the podium and enraptured her audience. Her voice rose in crescendos and glided over phrases both beautiful and powerful. Some lines stuck and will stick and be recited many, many times for years to come. One such line: “And the norms and notions of what is…isn’t always justice.” But she didn’t dwell on the turmoil that has faced our country in recent years. Instead she said, “Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”
Her message was one of hope, of learning from our mistakes and moving forward with a belief in the greatness of our country. “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 we’ll forever be tied together victorious, not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again know division.”
She called on the Bible for wisdom as we move forward, particularly in an effort to restore peace to a divided nation. “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 live in the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made.”
Until Gorman read the Inauguration poem, most outside of the literary world had not heard of her. We know that she grew up in Los Angeles and studied sociology at Harvard. Beyond that, Gorman has been noticed by only a handful, but a very powerful handful indeed. Dr. Jill Biden recommended her for the event. Oprah Winfrey, who had been very close to the late Maya Angelou, perhaps the most famous poet to have spoken at an inauguration, gifted Gorman with earrings for the special day.
As a child, Gorman led a quiet life in a small family. Amazingly, she had to overcome a speech impediment just as Biden did, making her perfect cadence in her poetry reading an even greater feat. It is obvious that Gorman, who has managed to fly under the radar for her first 22 years, will no longer go unnoticed. She is already being hailed as the star of the day, and many are excitedly sharing lines of her poem on social media.
That poem came full circle, beginning with “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” By the end of the poem, she had an answer for us:
“For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.