During President Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony Wednesday, one of the moments that stood out was Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s searing and soaring delivery of her poem “The Hill We Climb.” According to the New York Times, which blazed the headline “Amanda Gorman Captures the Moment, in Verse,” she didn’t finish writing the poem until after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
The poem was fierce, bold and spoke to the tenor and tone of the day in a way that speeches and orations just can’t.
It also offered us — and the world — a glimpse of what that world looks like right now through the eyes of a future leader.
But what about the future leaders in our own community, what are their observations, how do they see where we are as a country, where we are going, where we want to be?
Sharon Hanson, a teacher at Boise High School, asked her AP Language and Composition students, all juniors, to write an inauguration poem; in essence, echoing Gorman’s task.
“This was going to be one of the most authentic, rhetorical situations of our time,” Hanson said, explaining why she chose the topic. She made the assignment after winter break — and after Jan. 6 and the deadly riot at the Capitol. In such a charged environment, she challenged her students. “How do you write about your views after what happened without alienating your audience? What is the exegesis — what is your message?” Hanson said they studied past inauguration poems — there had been five prior to Gorman’s at the request of three past presidents. They found out in school on the Tuesday before the inauguration that Gorman would be delivering this year’s poem, and they watched her as she was interviewed on PBS, where she talked about writing the poem.
The students felt as if they were being seen, said Hanson, because they could identify with the young poet. While writing the poem, Gorman said “she was struggling with some of the same issues my students were.”