I first encountered Amanda Gorman’s genius in the summer of 2018 during a site visit to City Year’s Summer Academy, their annual training conference. For 20 minutes of an early morning session in a cavernous, collegiate hockey rink turned event space, Amanda wowed an audience of nearly 1,000 that spanned multiple generations, half of whom were her peers. She seamlessly interspersed vulnerable, personal stories with four of her poems. My favorite, In this Place, is an elegant, yet honest reflection on the beauty and struggles of our nation. By the end of her recitation, the applause was thunderous. Amanda helped all of us see ourselves in “a nation composed but not yet completed.”
Fast forward to January 20, 2021 when Amanda Gorman rightfully became a household name. In her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, she continued to use poetry as an elegant, yet honest political act asking us, “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” In the multiple times I have replayed and re-read her 710 words, I am transported to the many conversations I have been fortunate to have recently with Amanda’s peers, members of Generation Z, who “are striving to forge a union with purpose.” Young Bridgers exemplify in their civic actions that “being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.” A generation who came of age in an era of increased school shootings and horrific natural disasters, and whose education has been continuously defunded since the 2008 financial crisis and more recently disrupted by a global pandemic. And like generations before, too many of them have had to endure the effects of systemic racism and dehumanization. And yet, what gives me hope, is that many of Amanda’s peers assert, “how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?” with a commitment to “leave behind a country better than the one we were left with.”
Current events meant that Amanda’s in-person audience and applause in 2021 was much smaller than what I experienced in that booming hockey rink in 2018. And yet the world’s reaction has been moving. My hope is that as we celebrate Amanda and her talents, we also commit to putting her words into action. In particular, I hope that we follow the lead of the Inaugural Committee and find ways to not only give young people the microphone, but also the resources to “compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.”
The Hill We Climb
By Amanda Gorman, Inaugural Poet
Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world:
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’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.
In 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.
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 forest 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 it 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.
Wo, 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 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 Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
in every known nook of our nation,
in 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.
Recited at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
You can buy the hardcover edition of this work from the poet here.