It seems that every four years I am moved from writing personal stories to a subject that resonates in the current moment. The 2021 inaugural ceremony for the 46th President of the United States provided the moment. Specifically, Amanda Gorman’s recitation of her poem written for the occasion entitled, “The Hill We Climb”. Her words left me without any. I was overcome with emotion, and then hope.
Amanda Gorman is our National Youth Poet Laureate. She is the youngest person to write and present an inaugural poem on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Her message is one of resilience and recovery, of democracy’s imperfect, unfinished business. It requires bravery and stamina to weather inherent storms in America’s form of democracy. It requires courage and contribution to promote the work of systemic change.
Amanda spoke of the ability, after a period of disconnection and chaos, to collectively re-form as a nation of Americans, rather than a nation of divisions.
The fact that a twenty-two-year-old authored such beautiful, powerfully emotive words was, for me, the essence of her moment in the spotlight. It is this brand of inspiration which the younger generations bring to the table that will move us forward. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see.” In Amanda’s words:
“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 an American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”
Gorman is also part actor. Her interpretive recitation of “The Hill We Climb”, at the close of the inauguration, was punctuated with alliterative emphasis, emotion, gesture, rap and rhyme. Hamilton fans will recognize illusions to Lin Manuel-Miranda’s way with history, words, and meter:
“In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”
Amanda Gorman is more than a talented poet of her generation. She understands the power of words, their lasting effect, whether written or spoken. She believes in words as a catalyst for change. Poetry is her medium.
As part of a peaceful transition of power in America, an inauguration ritual is enacted with every new administration voted into office. It has been this way for more than 200 years. On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman revealed to the world, with cadence and crafting, that a shift in our country’s values will lead us to where we belong.
“We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.”
“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 we’re only brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Amanda Gorman among a generation of many, ready to lean across the national divide with outstretched arms, is the future where I want to be.
THE HILL WE CLIMB by Amanda Gorman
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 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, somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken but simply unfinished. We, the successors of a country and 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. 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 gazes 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 we’ll 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 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 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, benevolent 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 blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain. If we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children's birthright. So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left. With every breath from my bronze- pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise from the gold-limned hills of the west. We will rise from the wind-swept northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the mid-western states. We will rise from the sun-baked south. We will rebuild, reconcile and recover. And every known nook of our 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 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.
“Let’s begin to listen to one another again. Hear one another, see one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.“
–President Joseph Biden