From among many sources of light that warmed up a stage of historic change, Amanda Gorman shone the brightest with a message of reality, hope, and unity.
Wherever you found yourself perched in the world on the 20th of January, history was being made. With our gazes fixed on the ceremony and celebration of the 59th US Presidential Inauguration, there was definitely a lot to take in of the moment— Lady Gaga in a sculptural Schiaparelli original singing the US national anthem to passionate perfection, an immaculate Jennifer Lopez in Chanel performing This Land Is Your Land and America The Beautiful, and most importantly, the reinstating of a tarnished democracy at the hands of the previous administration. In fact, despite the obvious overcast of the winter, the sun broke through the clouds and shone its bright light on the Capitol where change was finally happening. Perhaps an auspicious stroke orchestrated by destiny, it certainly added a wash of warmth to color the scene in history books, heralding the dawn of a new era for the United States of America led by President Joe Biden.
“The sun is shining,” Minnesota Senator Klobuchar said as she took the stage to introduce Chief Justice John Roberts to swear in the incoming chief of state, acknowledging the flick of humor articulated by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, Chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, earlier. (“I should have known when Senator Klobuchar got involved, at least there’d be a touch of snow up here this morning. Of all the things we’ve considered, I don’t think snow was on my agenda ‘til I walked out the door a moment ago.) There were many more things to celebrate, of course, especially the barrier-breaking and radical redefinition of power in Madam Kamala Harris, the first African-American, Asian-American, and female Vice President of the United States of America, which is in itself a remarkable shift in possibilities for women and people of color who continue to dream the big dreams. One of those daring to move from beyond the margins set before them and furiously writing out stories that need to be told is Amanda Gorman, the inaugural poet chosen to essay this overarching moment in history in her searing purpose and poetic license.
Cocooned in a bright canary yellow coat by Prada, adorned by age-appropriate accoutrements such as red headband fashioned as a crown on her head, as well as of the Oprah-gifted gold hoop earrings by Nikos Koulis and an Of Rare Origin ring inspired by I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings luminary, Maya Angelou, the 22-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate and activist was a vision on a career-defining stage. Much like the streaks of light that opened up the scene prior, Amanda Gorman would stand to inevitably steal the show with her piece entitled, The Hill We Climb.
This moment was not at all lost on Amanda Gorman, who follows the great tradition of inaugural poets such as Robert Frost for John F. Kennedy, Maya Angelou for Bill Clinton, and Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco for Barack Obama. In an interview with CBS This Morning, she said, “Poetry is a weapon. It is an instrument of social change…and poetry is one of the most political arts out there because it demands that you rupture and destabilize the language in which you’re working with,” the poet furthers. “Inherently, you are pushing against the status quo. And so for me, it’s always existed in that tradition of truth-telling.”
Recognizing the responsibility that this moment has on America and even the rest of the world, Amanda Gorman did not take this honor lightly. “The climate of not only the pandemic but also racial tension in the United States and political tension have added a new layer of responsibility in my own work. It’s not enough for me, even in my own life, to just write poetry about red wheelbarrows or a tree, though I can and sometimes I do,” she told Vogue. “I have to interweave my poetry with purpose. For me, that purpose is to help people, and to shed a light on issues that have far too long been in the darkness.”
Stepping into the light, the young poet hunkered down and put in the work, researching on the enduring expositions of Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King for inspiration. But it was the fateful day of January 6, when the riots broke out in what would become a blatant act of domestic terrorism at the hallowed halls of the Capitol. Propelled by the insurrection, Amanda Gorman penned the soul-stirring poem, which she would recite to soaring aplomb on inauguration day.
“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 braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it,” she begins, gently gesticulating to underscore the fluidity of the narrative.
Grounded in reality with just enough flourish to carry the words from the page to the hearts of those who were watching and listening intently, Amanda Gorman expounded on a pervading message of hope and unity, without of course turning “a blind eye to the cracks that really need to be filled,” she said. In the moving manifesto coddled in charming cadence and riveting rhythm, the poet acknowledges what needs to be addressed, not just by the newly elected leaders, but of a greater generation as well. “To have space in such a public and important event where that youth and that generation can have a voice—I’m just so honored that I get to stand in that role,” she said in the same conversation with Vogue.
“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.”
Striking a chord with a curious point in history where everyone is really, truly at wits end, the piece continues to sew hope into the hems of this multi-colored tapestry that is intended to pull in a broken nation into an embrace of unity.
“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.”
Rousing the audience, which by this time was fully taken by the charming and compelling command of her words, Amanda Gorman drives the message of persistence. “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be,” she voiced out in what stands to be the consistent call by the heads of state. “We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.” A lot of history was drafted, written, and made permanent, as it of course stands to continue with the new guards of the American constitution, but out of all the lights that broke through the cracks, it was that of Amanda Gorman that shone the brightest. Firing up the country, and of the entire world at that, she was not only the right woman for the job, but one who deserved it. No one could have perfectly encapsulated a cumulative feeling, and yet she did so beautifully, so powerfully. For whatever it’s worth, with this generation moving and scaling hills and mountains that many dare not to climb, the future looks better already. Yes, the kids are more than alright.
“When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”