Amanda Gorman, a young, Black-identified woman, and the first National Youth Poet Laureate was one of the brightest lights of the Presidential Inauguration this week. She recited her powerful poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and her mastery of language at 22-years-old is inspiring. I only recently learned that she grew up with a speech impediment, which, based on her performance, makes it all the more remarkable.
I was an English and theater major in college and spent the first eighteen years of my educational career teaching English to middle school students. I have always been drawn to the power of language and the great poets—Angelou, Brooks, Collins, Frost, Gluck, Hughes, Oliver, Shakespeare, Shihab Nye (the list gets long)—who use language to inspire something within us. They allow us to discover something, perhaps, that only needed their language to unlock. Like jazz music, we’re likely to hear something we hadn’t before, even though we are working with the same notes. Certainly, Gorman’s artistry and command of language helped us hear something new.
As I reflect on “The Hill We Climb” and her performance, I return to the notion that diverse, powerful voices like Amanda Gorman’s are, in no small part, what draws so many of us to teach. There, before a national audience of 40 million, a young woman full of hope stood with grace, confidence, and elegance to express a perspective of her generation. She spoke with a voice informed by the fortunate educators who guided her along the way.
I imagined what it was like for Amanda's fourth grade poetry teacher to watch her at the podium, recalling when a younger Amanda asked what the difference between a metaphor and a simile might be. What was the moment like for the middle school English teacher whose homework assignment asking students to play with the forms of sonnet and sestina helped spark and nurture a keen talent?
Of course, I thought about the Belmont Day teachers who inspire and challenge our students to achieve their vast potential. Who among our students might see themselves in Amanda Gorman—holding the hope of a generation in her words, in her hands?
Belmont Day teachers see and nurture the possibility in every student. They see:
- the next great inventor inspired by their playful construction of a rocketship of sticks and stones in the Courtyard;
- a distinguished orator who discovered their voice as the god Hephaestus during the Greek Festival;
- an agent for justice who learned to command the stage on Freedom Night;
- the next National Youth Poet Laureate who refined their voice by performing in Poetry Slam; or
- a talented jazz musician who redefined excellence as a student performing at the Winter Concert.
It can be challenging to name what inspires us; sometimes, it is enough to simply say that we were inspired. On Wednesday, I was deeply inspired by Amanda Gorman. If you haven’t seen the recitation yet, I encourage you to watch it. I trust that you will be inspired, too.
Have a great weekend, everyone.