“And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. The inauguration featured a star-studded lineup, complete with Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Bernie Sanders’ viral mittens. Despite the A-listers in attendance, the show was stolen by the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. In the fourth hour of the event, Gorman recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” to the president and other attendees of the inauguration, as well as the 40 million people who tuned in. Alongside other historic firsts that occurred that day, Gorman is the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration in United States history. She joins poets such as Maya Angelou and Robert Frost in welcoming their president.
Amanda Gorman is a 22-year-old poet and activist. Hailing from Los Angeles, Gorman recently graduated from Harvard University with a B.A. in sociology. Her poetry and activism center around oppression, race, and feminism. She has published multiple books and recently obtained a contract to write another. These include a children's book, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem, and a print version of her inaugural poem—both of which shot to the top of bestsellers’ lists after her appearance on Jan. 20, selling three million copies and pre-orders in the span of a few days.
In “The Hill We Climb,” Gorman preaches unity and the work we have ahead of us as a nation. Inspired by the recent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, Gorman expressed how she did not want to shy away from addressing the trials and hardships we have faced in recent times. This is particularly seen in lines 30-34 as she acknowledges an effort that would “destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.” Despite the troubles that have plagued us, Gorman calls for reconciliation and compassion towards one another, acknowledging our past and working towards a better future. The poem also recognizes the significance of her presence that day as a young Black woman (Lines 8-9). As pictures of young Black girls and women watching the event go viral, Gorman was a part of the rich representation that was seen at this presidential inauguration.
As well as the inauguration, she had been invited to recite poetry for a number of audiences, including the Obama administration and the Library of Congress. First Lady Jill Biden recommended Gorman for the inaugural position after attending one of her recitations.
Relatively unknown before her inaugural performance, Gorman quickly found herself in the limelight. She experienced a sharp increase in her social media following, and her book quickly rose up bestsellers lists. Even her outfit, complete with a sunny yellow Prada coat and red puffed hairband, made headlines. Searches for “yellow coat” increased by 1,328 percent post-inauguration, and the Prada headband sold out over a week ago. Gorman and her poem also caught the attention of many influential people and fellow creators. At the event she met former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, as well as former First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After the event, Hamilton writer and actor Lin Manuel Miranda praised her in a Twitter exchange.
In this moving and powerful poem, Amanda Gorman urges us to find the bravery to be the light in the shade of our times.
“When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.”
Listen to the poem here.
View the transcript of the poem here.
Visit Amanda Gorman’s website here.