Much has been written of last week’s inauguration. For me, coming off the crisis of the insurrection at our country’s temple of Democracy, the highlight was the young poet Amanda Gorman, whose poetry, youthfulness, and spontaneity were an inspiration. Great speeches are recorded in our history books—Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, John Kennedy’s inauguration speech and Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial to name a few that come to mind. Yet the excitement generated by the young poet Gorman is intriguing. Who is she? Where did she come from and how did she come to the attention of Biden’s inauguration committee? Beyond the who, where and how, her delivery and the substance of what she said rose to an oratorical level not witnessed in our country for the last four years. It was as if all the windows and doors had been flung open allowing fresh air and sunlight into stale and fetid rooms.
Young Gorman’s recitation took me back to the fall of 1958 when, as a freshman at Rutgers Mens College in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I sat beneath the gothic arches in the Kirkpatrick campus chapel, listening to Robert Frost deliver his poem, “The Road Not Taken.” His words echoed throughout the majestic stained-glass hall. This was my first experience listening to a live reading by such a distinguished man of letters, and it was overwhelming. Amanda Gorman’s performance evoked in me a similar sense of awe. How incredible that the words of a 22-year-old could stir genuine inspiration and hope for our Democracy. Just as Robert Frost had motivated me to pursue my educational path– “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– / I took the one less travelled by”—I heard and felt in Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” the courage to move on from the corruption of the past four years. Her reading was no political stunt. It was honest and true and thrust open the doors and windows to 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.”