Amanda Gorman, The 22-year-old Los Angeles resident, youth poet laureate of Los Angeles, first national youth poet laureate and Harvard graduate was invited to speak at the event by First Lady Jill Biden, who had previously seen the poet do a reading at the Library of Congress.
Here is the text of Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” in full.
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 braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and 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 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 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.
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’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.
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 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.
So, 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, become the future.
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 the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
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.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons 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.
Who is Amanda Gorman?
Amanda Gorman made a name for herself last week after becoming the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. The 22-year-old perfectly encapsulated the feelings of the nation last Wednesday with her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” which spoke both of the pains of the past—as well as the promise of the future.
At only 22, Gorman is now part of a small group of poets that have been selected to perform at presidential inaugurations. Her predecessors include names such as Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, among others. However, none of her predecessors have faced the challenge which Gorman did last Wednesday.
When Gorman stood upon the Capitol steps, donning a bright-yellow coat and basking in the early morning sunlight, she called for unity and spoke about the importance of our democracy. Her words and her presence struck a chord with many Americans. Exactly two weeks prior, the country watched in horror as an angry mob of Trump supporters breached the Capitol in an effort to stop the election of President Joe Biden. While their efforts were futile, the event tarnished one of the stead-fast symbols of our nation’s democracy, becoming emblematic of the ever-growing divide.
In the wake of the riots, Gorman’s task at hand—to unite a fractured nation through prose—seemed like a monumental challenge. However, Gorman has never shied away from a challenge. And it is this strength in the face of adversity that has shaped Gorman’s career thus far.
Amanda Gorman was born in Los Angeles in 1998. She was raised by a single mother and middle-school English teacher. Both Gorman and her twin sister were born prematurely and in kindergarten, Gorman was diagnosed with an auditory disorder that gave her a speech impediment. However, after her elementary school teacher introduced her to poetry, Gorman was able to find her voice again. She soon fell in love with writing and reciting poetry, and spent much of her time writing in journals on the playground.
As Gorman continued to work on her poetry, she found herself naturally drawn to social justice issues. She looked up to writers and poets such as Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, people who used their words to call for change and to resist systems of inequality. Following in the path paved by those before her, Gorman set out to develop a career that blended poetry with social justice. Gorman founded a non-profit organization called One Pen One Page, which supported youth advocacy leadership skills as well as poetry workshops. In 2014, the young writer became the first ever youth poet laureate for Los Angeles. She published her first poetry book the following year, entitled: The One For Whom Food Is Not Enough. And in 2016, Gorman began studying sociology at Harvard where, in her sophomore year, she became America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate—forever cementing her name into US history.
Throughout her career, Amanda Gorman has never shied away from the issues that matter. Her work often tackles themes of belonging, justice, and citizenship. She leans on the work of her predecessors, while simultaneously boldly forging a whole new era of creative activism. Her performance at the inauguration received glowing reviews, with accolades pouring in from everyone from Barack Obama to Oprah Winfrey—according to the New York Times. At a time of deep national divisions, it is important that voices such as Amanda Gorman’s continue to be preserved and protected. For, in the words of Gorman herself, “Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.”