By Erin Letourneau
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.
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.”