In an inauguration that had performances from Lady Gaga and J. Lo, it was 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman who stole the entire show. Er, I mean ceremony. It’s a festival line-up with a few oaths being sworn, okay?
Gorman performed her five-minute poem The Hill We Climb to a trimmed down audience of President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, three other former presidents and various dignitaries, armed forces, and Bernie Sanders demonstrating perfect social distancing.
In doing so, Gorman became the youngest ever poet to perform at a presidential inauguration.
“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,” she recited.
In another part, Gorman referenced the recent storming of the US Capitol, the same building from which she was performing. (She told NPR she was halfway through writing the poem when the insurrection occurred, and of course had to include it.)
Three Wednesdays in January pic.twitter.com/9dQgG0R0A8
— Jesus Jiménez (@jesus_jimz) January 20, 2021
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy,” she said.
“And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”
The poem touched on themes of healing and unity, culminating in a call to arms to be better than the last four years of hyper partisanship:
“For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
You can watch her full performance here, with a little Barack Obama praise just to really make you feel like an underachiever.
On a day for the history books, @TheAmandaGorman delivered a poem that more than met the moment. Young people like her are proof that "there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it; if only we're brave enough to be it." pic.twitter.com/mbywtvjtEH
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 20, 2021
Of course, everyone’s gone nuts over her performance. Amanda Gorman, making history and lighting up Twitter in one day.
Photo credit: Rob Carr pic.twitter.com/C2cf0U5iEj
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) January 20, 2021
“We have seen a force that would rather shatter the country than share it.” Wise and painful words from #AmandaGorman
— bettemidler (@BetteMidler) January 20, 2021
Amanda Gorman just tweeted that she wore a ring with a caged bird, a gift from Oprah, to honor Maya Angelou. And now I’m crying all over again.
— Candice Marie Benbow (@CandiceBenbow) January 20, 2021
I'm old enough to remember Robert Frost reading a poem at JFK's inauguration. He was good, but Amanda Gorman today was extraordinary.
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) January 20, 2021
— Jumaane Williams (@JumaaneWilliams) January 20, 2021
So who is Amanda Gorman? The LA-based poet became the first ever national youth poet laureate in 2017, when she was 19 years old. She was asked to perform at the inauguration after Jill Biden – sorry, that’s First Lady Jill Biden – saw one of her readings at the Library of Congress in 2017 and became a fan.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times before her performance, she said she didn’t want to paint the Capitol riot as “an irregularity to different from the America I know”.
“America is messy,” she said.
“It’s still in its early development of all that we can become. And I have to recognise that in the poem. I can’t ignore that or erase it. And so, I crafted an inaugural poem that recognises these scars and these wounds. Hopefully, it will move us toward healing them.”
Also, she’s friends with Oprah. Just need to throw that in there.
Thank you! I would be nowhere without the women whose footsteps I dance in. While reciting my poem, I wore a ring with a caged bird—a gift from @Oprah for the occasion , to symbolize Maya Angelou, a previous inaugural poet. Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before. https://t.co/5Tegd20sko
— Amanda Gorman (@TheAmandaGorman) January 20, 2021