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'The Hill We Climb': Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman steals the show

Amanda Gorman, 22, the nation's youngest inaugural poet, captivated the nation with her poem, "The Hill We Climb."
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Amanda Gorman, 22, all but stole the show on Inauguration Day as she performed her original poem, "The Hill We Climb," becoming the youngest inaugural poet known in the nation's history.

Gorman spoke with force, poise and clarity outside the U.S. Capitol in front of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, among others.

"We've learned that quiet isn't always peace and the norms and notions of what just is, isn't always justice," she recited. "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."

Biden’s inaugural team contacted Gorman late last month to perform a poem about unity in the United States, according to The Associated Press. She is now among inaugural poets including Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Miller Williams, Richard Blanco and Elizabeth Alexander.

Gorman's performance drew awe from both those present and those watching virtually. Social media users quickly took note of the young poet, praising her on Twitter.

"I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering — and so am I," media mogul Oprah Winfrey tweeted. Ahead of the performance, Winfrey gave Gorman earrings and a ring shaped like a caged bird, a tribute to Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," according to CBS News.

Gorman thanked Winfrey in a tweet of her own.

"Thank you! I would be nowhere without the women whose footsteps I dance in," Gorman tweeted. "While reciting my poem, I wore a ring with a caged bird—a gift from @Oprah for the occasion , to symbolize Maya Angelou, a previous inaugural poet. Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before."

Gorman also drew praise from Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams who tweeted, "Amanda Gorman’s message serves as an inspiration to us all."

Gorman excitedly asked Lin-Manuel Miranda if he'd noticed references to his musical "Hamilton" in her poem and received kudos from the playwright, too;

"You were perfect," he tweeted. "Perfectly written, perfectly delivered. Every bit of it. Brava!"

Gorman became the nation’s first youth poet laureate at 19, while a sophomore at Harvard University. Before the inauguration, Gorman told The New York Times that she wants the poem to inspire hope, without ignoring the country’s history of racism and violence.

“In my poem, I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years,” she said. “But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal. It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”

Gorman said she struggled to write until the Capitol riot gave her just the push she needed.

She told NPR that she was drawn to poetry at a young age due in part to a speech impediment. She said her struggle to speak proved to be a connection for her to Biden and even Angelou.

"Maya Angelou was mute growing up as a child and she grew up to deliver the inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton," Gorman said. "So I think there is a real history of orators who have had to struggle with a type of imposed voicelessness, you know, having that stage in the inauguration."

Gorman's task was not an easy one: acknowledging the nation's history and present while dreaming of a better future. To that end, she opened her poem boldly.

"When day comes we ask ourselves, 'Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?'" she said. "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."

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