Making history along with Vice President Kamla Harris is Amanda Gorman! She is the youngest poet in recent history to read a poem at a presidential inauguration.
Following the footsteps of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, the 22-year-old poet from Los Angeles takes the stage for President Biden’s inauguration, making history. The young poet shared with NPR that she dug into the works of those speakers (as well as Winston Churchill) to study on ways “rhetoric has been used for good.”
Composing the poem over the past few weeks, she acknowledges the previous president’s incitement of violence but turns toward hope. Furthermore, Gorman has also taken her cues from orators like Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Her poem, inspiring and commanding the room, does a great job covering previous President Trump’s problematic term. More specifically, her poem does a good job acknowledging the violent and damaging results of Trump’s term.
“The Hill We Climb” 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.
Amanda Gorman, has also shared an interesting fact with NPR. Gorman, like Biden, had a speech impediment as a child. While Biden had a stutter; Gorman had difficulty pronouncing certain sounds. She also told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that her speech impediment was one reason she was drawn to poetry at a young age. “Having an arena in which I could express my thoughts freely was just so liberating that I fell head over heels, you know when I was barely a toddler,” she said.
For Gorman, a former National Youth Poet Laureate, her struggle to speak provided a connection not only to the incoming president, but to previous inaugural poets, too.
“Maya Angelou was mute growing up as a child and she grew up to deliver the inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton,” she says. “So I think there is a real history of orators who have had to struggle with a type of imposed voicelessness, you know, having that stage in the inauguration.”
There have only been a handful of inaugural poets; Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy were the only presidents in the past who chose to have poems read at their inaugurations. You can read all the previous poems here.