Advocating for America’s Future: Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural Poem

By Erin Letourneau

Amanda Gorman (Image via @amandascgorman/Instagram)

America’s youngest inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, captured the country’s attention on January 20th of this year with her exhilarating performance of “The Hill We Climb”. Gorman’s poem offered the nation a foundation of hope in a time where there has been a painful lack of guidance and unity. It acknowledged America’s historical progress -and its weaknesses- and commended the potential of our shared future.

In writing her poem for this historic occasion, Gorman used history and current events to her advantage. In a reference to Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning Broadway musical, she observes, “for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.” This line speaks to the enduring impact of our nation’s history. Gorman manages to create a parallel between America’s past and present, while providing assurance that the country has made significant progress. Referring to herself as a Black girl descended from slavery who “can dream of becoming president,” Gorman invokes the distinctly American metaphor of the dream, a vision of the future that has accompanied the growth and progress of our nation throughout its history.

Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne, Amanda Gorman (2021)
Photo: Surface Mag: https://www.surfacemag.com/articles/amanda-gorman-painting/

Like many in our generation, 22-year-old Gorman is painfully aware of the current state of our union. Division has spread across the country, and injustice, violence, and defeat have settled for too long. From political discord to racial violence to the global pandemic, Americans have been impacted and outraged. Gorman urges her listeners to realize that, “to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside,” and implores that we fight for justice. Gorman is urging us not to settle, but to continue to fight for America’s future–for the present generation and generations who will follow.

From the poem’s title, “The Hill We Climb,” to its last line, Gorman brings us to acknowledge the highs and lows of America’s past, present, and future. Most importantly, she wields poetry as an instrument of change, representing our shared history to advocate for a brighter future: “For there is always light, / if only we’re brave enough to see it. / If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Erin Letourneau (Kylie Gotzfried Photography)

10 Tips for Success in your Online Classes!!!

Words of wisdom from the Detroit Mercy Student Success Center:
  1. Wake up early before your classes start! A “morning” or class routine before you get started can help you to get in the right state of mind for the day!
  2. Regardless of what time your classes start, get ready no less than one hour ahead of time to be sure your technology is working, and you feel prepared. 
  3. Get dressed in your actual clothes. Again, you will feel better prepared and be more productive. Scholars of “enclothed cognition” have even found putting on shoes can help you feel more alert and ready to learn.
  4. Be ACTIVELY engaged in class–turn on your video, take notes, ask questions, discuss with your classmates–treat it like an in-person class (and you are sitting in the front row)!
  5. If possible, put your cell phone in another room if it’s distracting you.
  6. Do not try to multitask by doing homework, texting, listening to music, etc. while in class. Focus on what your professor is saying and stay engaged. Studies show we really cannot multitask like we think we can! 
  7. If your class is asynchronous, schedule your own “class time” to get work done at the same time every week. For example, if you are in a 100% online asynchronous MTH 1010, you can work on it from 10-10:50 am on MWF. Create that class time for yourself! Your professional mentor can also help you stay accountable!
  8. Keep track of all your classes by using a physical planner–writing out assignments and deadlines by hand can make a big difference.
  9. If possible, don’t participate in online classes where you sleep or in front of the TV–create a working space with the least amount of distractions possible. You can also access your online classes in on-campus computer labs or sign up for private study spaces in the library.
  10. Remember, the Student Success Center is open and accessible! You can meet in-person or virtually with SSC tutors and professional mentors.

Find out about all of the support offered by the Student Success Center on their website: https://www.udmercy.edu/current-students/support-services/success-center.php

Success Coach Sr. Sarah Foster with her dog Bentley, the SSC therapy dog!
“Come visit us today!
Professional Mentor, Sr. Sarah Foster, RSM, Tommy Titan and the SSC Therapy Dog Bentley!

“They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” by Hanif Abdurraqib — Amanda Hiber

Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (Two Dollar Radio, 2017) is like no other book I’ve read. In essays that combine pop cultural criticism, sociopolitical commentary, and memoir, Abdurraqib cuts to the core of his subjects with sensitivity and eloquence. He never oversimplifies. The book is written in the wake of 21st-century traumas— Hurricane Katrina, killings of unarmed black men like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, the election of Donald Trump, and others—that have only augmented a historic sense of injury, loss, and defeat for black Americans like the author. “There is no moment in America when I do not feel like I am fighting,” he writes. “When I do not feel like I’m not pushing back against a machine that asks me to prove that I belong here.”

Several essays in the collection wrestle with Abdurraqib’s appreciation for cultural products and spaces made without regard for people like him. He exposes the paradox that certain artists and artistic movements act as refuge for some yet ignore or marginalize others. The essay, “I Wasn’t Brought Here, I Was Born: Surviving Punk Rock Long Enough to Find Afropunk” takes the reader through Abdurraqib’s complicated relationship with the punk scene, citing racism directed at him at shows, as well as themes in punk music that arise from privilege. “It is a luxury to romanticize blood, especially your own,” he says. “It is a luxury to be able to fetishize violence, especially the violence that you inflict upon others.” Another essay describes a Bruce Springsteen concert, beginning with the writer’s long appreciation of Springsteen’s music and its cultural impact, then shifts to the whiteness implicit in his romanticization of blue-collar work. Having arrived at the show directly after visiting Michael Brown’s grave in Ferguson, Missouri, Abdurraqib writes that The River “is an album of a specific type of optimism—one not afforded to everyone who listens to it.”

Chance the Rapper, Abduraqqib writes, “was the one who tapped into exactly what [2016] needed.”

Other pieces in the collection provide deep examinations of the ways that black musicians—from Nina Simone to Chance the Rapper—express and elucidate black Americans’ means of survival and refusal to give up what is theirs. “I have always held the legacy of Nina Simone close,” he writes, “because I know how easily it could be taken from me and served back to America as something more pleasing.” Framing the collection are fragments that add up to an essay on Marvin Gaye—as cultural icon, black hero, artist, and man—as well as his impacts on our country and the writer himself. All of Abdurraqib’s music writing demonstrates an incredible attunement to what is happening between the notes and beneath the lyrics. He is an endlessly generous listener, always regarding an artist on their own terms yet constantly probing the surface. 

“Black Life on Film,” one of the most affecting essays in the collection, starts devastatingly with the writer seeing video of the Rodney King beating on the TV news at age seven. The essay then turns to Boyz n the Hood but here, too, the analysis is about the listener as much as the music. Abdurraqib describes his impression of the movie as a twelve-year old, and now, in early middle-age. “Looking back…I think it’s less a movie about death…as it is a movie about loyalty that spans generations,” he writes.

Boyz n the Hood, directed by John Singleton, premiered in 1991.

Some of Abdurraqib’s most personal essays address teenage friends’ suicides and his mother’s death. In one essay, he takes us through the summer of 1997. He is 13 and just coming of age as a rap fan. Both Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. were killed only months earlier. Then his mother dies suddenly in her sleep. Grieving her as he is surrounded by hip-hop, he says, revealed to him the strong undercurrent of grief in hip-hop music at the same time that it provided comfort, escape, and a little joy. Another essay is a chronicle of the author’s process of mourning his mother alongside rapper Future’s grieving of his relationship with the musician, model and actress Ciara, as demonstrated in his lyrics. The comparison may seem shallow but music is deeply personal for Abdurraqib. Though he never says it outright, it is clear throughout the book that for him, music is a mirror, a microscope, a glue, and a salve, all in one.

Portrait of a Graduating Senior: Grace Kowalski

Grace Kowalski, English major with a Concentration in Professional Writing, Leadership minor 

Next steps: Gracie is pursuing her MBA at University of Detroit Mercy.

What is one class you took or book you read that you will remember when you are 70? Why?

One class that I will always remember was Diverse Voices in Literature. The class discussion and topics we covered were new to me. I had never had them in my education before, and this was a class I always looked forward to attending. During this class we had the opportunity to help sort books and help distribute literature to the community through Rx for Reading. There was so much love and care into both the education and service. I highly recommend this class! 

What noise or sound do you love? What noise or sound do you hate?

I adore the sound of water. The sound of the crashing waves from the ocean, raindrops dancing all around as they fall, and the sound of waterfalls. I don’t like the sound of swarming bees, I love bees but they sound so scary! 

What is your favorite quote/motto? 

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler


How have the English Department professors impacted your experience as an undergraduate?


The English department professors made my college experience so special. They truly cared and were invested in me as a person. The faculty encouraged me to research things that are of interest to me and that will aid me in my future endeavors. The English department has done more for me than I could have ever imagined or asked for. I will always be grateful for all that the faculty have done for me, and thank them from the bottom of my heart for all that they do. ♥️

Portrait of a Graduating Senior: Zoey Oatis

Zoey Oatis, Health Services Administration major and Professional Writing minor

Zoey is currently pursuing a M.S. in Information Assurance at the University of Detroit Mercy

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your high school self about how they should approach college?

I would tell myself that college is a journey. “You pack your bag, set your course, and embark on voyages that take you to far horizons.” Along that journey, you’ll meet new people, make new friends, run into obstacles, overcome adversity, and learn who you are as a person. What’s important is to make sure you stay the course and not lose sight of the goals you set for yourself. 

What are you most excited about in the next 12 months? What are you most nervous about in the next 12 months?

I’m most excited about starting my new career in the health administration field. I’m a little anxious about finding the right fit for me. There are so many different jobs in this career field to explore and I just hope to find one that suits my personality. 

What are you proudest of in your college career?

With my involvement in athletics at the university, I am proud to have been consistent with my grades. I was able to stay on the Dean’s honor roll as well as the Athletic Director’s honor roll all for all four years.

What is your favorite quote/motto?

My favorite quote is a bible scripture. Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” My faith is an important aspect of my life and it’s what makes me complete.  

Portrait of a Graduating Senior: Jasmina Cunmulaj

Jasmina Cunmulaj, Double Major in Developmental Psychology and English Literature

Next step for Jasmina: Masters of Public Health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health

What is your best Detroit Mercy memory?

Becoming a Teaching Assistant for Professor [Nick] Rombes Creative Writing Class was one of my best memories. I loved getting to spend time with other students, watching them expand their knowledge, and also learn from Professor Rombes’s great creative writing experience.

What has been most valuable or surprising about your experience in the English department?

As cliché as it may sound, I truly did find “myself” in college. Specifically, I found myself in the English department. Professors believed in me when I thought the opposite for myself, and always encouraged me to go further than my comfort zone. Each professor had their own specific genre of preference, and each continuously taught with an undeniable passion; this is what made the English department so special. Students were not numbers, but rather individuals. In the English department I became a part of one big family and this is one of the hardest things, I have found, about leaving Detroit Mercy.

What is one class you took or book you read that you will remember when you are 70? Why?

Class, Race, Gender is a class that I continuously refer back to in daily life. While many of my classes can be applied to things I encounter on a daily basis, the RELS class taught by Dr. [Hsiao-Lan] Hu really shifted my perspective on the way I view class, race, and gender within the world. It has opened my perspective to a new world, almost like someone had removed the wool from over my eyes. More specifically, I like to refer back to a lot of things I learned in this class and tell other people, so that they too can understand that there is a dimensional aspect to having a perspective, not just a one-sided approach.

What is one thing you want to have done or seen or accomplished by your 20th college reunion?

By my 20th college reunion, I would like to have opened up non-profit clinics in the Balkans that serve to provide mental health and medical services for women and children who were affected by the war over the past few decades. Hopefully become a working member of the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) as well. On a lighter note, I would love to have visited at least 10 places on my bucket list!

What are you proudest of in your college career?

 I am proudest of my ability to overcome obstacles that seemed impossible to challenge in my Freshman and Sophomore years. I felt as though I was lost in my college career, and had an unsalvageable track record already. My grades dropped and I had a sense of anxiety that constantly clouded over me. When I stumbled into the English department, I found a sanctuary that brought me in and guided me back to a more promising and hopeful path. I am proudest of my ability to overcome these things because not only did I finish strong, but also finished with two different majors with the help of many professors. This is something I will never forget, and something I like to consider to be the monumental point in my undergraduate career.

What do you want to learn about next?

I would like to continue expanding my knowledge by entering into the public health field focus primarily on global health.

What is your favorite quote/motto?

Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa

Portrait of a Graduating Senior: Mary Kate McNally

Mary Kate McNally, Honors English and History Major, Women’s and Gender Studies Minor

What is your best Detroit Mercy memory?

My best memory at Detroit Mercy was attending the Civil Rights travel course. The summer before my junior year I spent a week traveling around the South visiting different Civil Rights landmarks. I do not have the words to express what an amazing experience this was. Learning about this period was often extremely emotional, but I gained a deeper understanding of the Civil Rights movement than I ever could have through a textbook. I cannot recommend this class enough. If you are a history major or just someone interested in the Civil Rights movement, it is an unforgettable experience.

What is one class you took or book you read that you will remember when you are 70? Why?

I will never forget my unyielding efforts to convince the English department to teach a class on Jane Austen’s works. I never did get my class, but one day while I was in Dr. Harrison’s office, she told me that she was teaching a Writing About Literature class and Pride and Prejudice was on the reading list. It was a fantastic class, made more so by the fact that I got to read and write on my favorite novel. 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your high school self about how they should approach college?

When I graduated high school, I was not excited to start college. I did not approach it with an open heart. I remember leaving for orientation with such a feeling of dread. Looking back, I am embarrassed that I had such a bad attitude. I spent the entirety of the summer trying not to think about starting college and I missed out on a lot of joy and excitement. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself not to focus on everything that could go wrong, but of all the great, new opportunities that were in front of me.  

What is your favorite word? What is your least favorite word?

My favorite word is “ardently”. I like it best when used in the following manner: “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” My least favorite word is “really.”

What are you proudest of in your college career?

My proudest achievement was the defense of my undergraduate thesis. I did not realize how important that moment was going to be to me, but it was exhilarating to discuss two years’ worth of work and research. Because of the COVID-19 crises, I had to defend my thesis online at home. As a result, my entire family was able to be present. The completion of my thesis was a daunting task, and finishing it gave me a sense of accomplishment I have never felt before.

What is your favorite quote/motto?

“I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied fields of hope and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had the courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils”

–Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Portrait of a Graduating Senior: Savanah Wright

Savanah Wright, Double Major in Theatre and English

What has been most valuable or surprising about your experience in the English department?

I had not expected to be in such a close-knit community. We were able to build a community that cared for one another rather than simply being classmates and professors. The English department was there for me when I was going through one of the hardest periods of my life. For that, I will always be grateful.

What noise or sound do you love? What noise or sound do you hate?

I love the sound of water! Rain, ocean tides, running faucets, you name it. I find it extremely relaxing. I really don’t like it when people make sounds when they eat. It makes my skin crawl.

What is your best Detroit Mercy memory?

There are so many memories that I love, but if I had to choose I would say that my time performing on stage with the Detroit Mercy Theatre company would have to be my favorite. Throughout my time at Detroit Mercy, I have been able to play numerous roles, all unique in their own right. I have been an estranged daughter, a headstrong artist, a “Bad Idea Bear’, and so much more. The memories that I have made both on and off the stage are memories I will cherish for a long time. 

What is one class you took or book you read that you will remember when you are 70? Why?

Honestly, I will remember a lot of the classes I took for a long time. It is hard to choose only one because each of the courses has impacted me significantly. If I had to choose one specifically it would be Writing about Literature. I was never fully confident in my writing skills but this course helped me get out of my mind and realize my potential. This course gave me the confidence that I needed to let myself enjoy writing without constantly second-guessing my skills. I highly recommend the course to anyone who is struggling with confidence in their writing as well.

What you should read, watch, and listen to this spring: recs from English department students and faculty

What we’re reading to maintain our intellectual muscles

Eliot has a way of taking you deeper into your own life by immersing you in the lives of others.

Dr. Harrison

It’s better the second (or tenth) time around: What we’re re-reading

What we’re reading for escape (what pandemic?)

Our fave movies that never get old

  • Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bek Hirschmann)
  • Paris, Texas (Hannah Knisely)
  • Tarzan (Jency Shaji)
  • Captain America: Civil War (Jency Shaji)
  • Annie Hall (Dr. Crabtree)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Dr. Streit)
  • The Magic of Belle Isle (Dr. Streit)
  • Casablanca (Dr. Weatherston)
  • The Breakfast Club (Dalton Hahn)
  • Sunset Blvd. (Dr. Paszek)
  • Manhattan (Dr. Rombes)

What we’re binge-watching

  • Grey’s Anatomy (Hannah Knisely)
  • Brooklyn 99 (Jency Shaji)
  • All American (Jency Shaji)
  • Rake (Dr. Crabtree)
  • Call the Midwife (Dr. Crabtree)
  • Schitt’s Creek (Dr. Harrison)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Dr. Streit)
  • Planet Earth (Dr. Streit)
  • Bosch (Prof. Hiber; Dr. Rombes)
  • Insecure (Prof. Hiber 
  • Tales from the Loop (Dr. Weatherston; Dr. Paszek)
  • The Man in the High Castle (Dr. Hill)
  • Better Call Saul (Dr. Hill)

Rake is a semi-comic Australian show about an outrageous, funny, sexy barrister who’s self-defeating but lovable.

For a good cry, try Call the Midwife.

Dr. Crabtree

Who/what we’re listening to

  • Fleetwood Mac: Tusk (Bek Hirschmann)
  • Harry Styles: Fine Line (Bek Hirschmann)
  • Khalid Radio on Spotify (Jency Shaji)                                         
  • Bedrich Smetana (Dr. Streit)
  • Herbert von Karajan (Dr. Streit)
  • Angel Olsen (Prof. Hiber)
  • Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Prof. Hiber)
  • Everything but the Girl (Dr. Weatherston)
  • Talking Heads (Dr. Hill)
  • Wilco (Dr. Hill)
  • Jax Jones: Snacks (Dr. Paszek)
  • Mitsuko Uchida (Dr. Rombes)

About our recommenders

Dalton Hahn is a Theater major and Creative Writing minor. He’s also been writing music, and playing guitar and piano while quarantined.

Bek Hirschmann is a Literature major and Philosophy minor who wrote the previous Between the Pages post. Check it out!

Hannah Knisely is a Literature major and Psychology minor who’s recently taken up repurposing and painting old furniture.

Jency Shaji is a Biology major and a Literature minor. In addition to reading (etc.), she’s been relearning ASL during the quarantine.

Dr. Crabtree is reading advice columns, cooking more creatively, and eating frozen brownies.

Dr. Harrison has been Zoom-ing and forest bathing.

Prof. Hiber can be found reading food blogs and almost-finishing NYT Sunday crosswords.

Dr. Hill has been ordering and planting flowers.

Dr. Paszek is listening to a ton of music and cooking with his air fryer.

Dr. Rombes has been walking and rediscovering jigsaw puzzles.

Dr. Streit is gardening and re-reading Harry Potter books.

Dr. Weatherston has been biking, playing Yahtzee, and reading home renovation magazines.