History was made on January 20th. Kamala Harris became the first female, African American, Asian American vice president. Girls all over America (and the world) finally saw that we can actually do anything—that when we are told to dream, our dreams can come true. After two centuries of male presidents and vice presidents, we finally have a woman.
Also making history was Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet at 22 with her piece “The Hill We Climb.” Her passionate delivery and resounding words captivated the nation, urging Americans to come together and unite.
Gorman also revealed that the events of January 6th inspired part of her poem:
“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.”
The violence in the Capitol, the terrorization of our democracy, the possibility of the assassination of our legislators, was shocking. The fact that our president essentially incited an insurrection and failed to promptly denounce the violence of the rioters was appalling. In truth, it was quite ironic being that Trump asserted he was a “law and order” president, a supporter of “Blue Lives Matter,” and “the least racist person in this room” while his supporters ravaged the Capitol, trampled and beat Capitol policemen, and proudly waved the Confederate flag in the Capitol. But despite all this horror, “while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.” And the words of Amanda Gorman have struck a chord in all of us. We are at a critical inflection point and, as she said, as Americans, we need to assume our roles in fixing our nation and maintaining all that America stands for.
She recognized us all over the nation and resolved that we will only overcome this adversity together:
“We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.”
Her use of parallel structure in this passage truly conveyed the faith in our people to rise to the occasion and become what we are meant to be. Even the alliteration of “rebuild, reconcile, and recover” added to her message of reforming and reconstructing our fragile nation.
She pointed out the racial injustice that has come to light this past year:
“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice…”
Her play on words was quite clever, effectively asserting that racial injustice and systemic racism are everywhere and so thoroughly weaved into our society. We can’t be silent on these matters, we need to continue the fight. Black Lives Matter protests sparked all over the nation, making it one of the largest movements of the country’s history, but the fight can’t be forgotten. We need serious reform in the criminal justice system and also in our government (where some members of Congress are terribly racist).
She challenged us all that we can’t just hope for change, rather we need to be the change:
“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Her ending line also added to her extended metaphor of the people being the light. She started the poem with, “When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” Gorman then answered her own question in declaring that we are the light. We are the ones who have to bring ourselves out of this darkness, this crisis.
And in line with the theme of Biden’s inauguration, she called for unity and togetherness:
“And so we lift our gaze, 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.”
Adding another play on words with laying “down our arms so we can reach out our arms…” she conveyed the importance of being the United States. The “hill we climb” is steep, but we can make it if we are united. While we faced a dark day—a dark year, really—we’ve found hope. Hope in the new administration, hope in our children who look up to a female Vice President, hope in our youth who look up to women like Amanda Gorman, and hope in our nation to “rebuild, reconcile, and recover.”
Gorman, Amanda. The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country. New York, NY, Viking Books For Young Readers, An Imprint Of Penguin Random House, 2021.