Homage to Amanda Gorman: Shine on!


American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

On a day that still tingles with the electric pulse of the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, I remain moved and thrilled by the ringing cadences of Amanda Gorman’s finale poem—not only her brave and lyrical words, but also the grace with which she delivered them. 

Afterwards, I wondered: how did the Biden team find this gem? I discovered that it was Professor Jill Biden who recommended Ms. Gorman to the Inauguration planners after encountering her at a 2017 reading

Does it make a difference that Amanda Gorman is a Harvard University graduate? Certainly she seemed at home in the rarified circle of the Capitol, as she did in a 2019 poetry performance for a ForbesWomen conference

She has a poetic passion that is at once gritty and polished. She speaks of herself as “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves,” but also as someone who is part of a redemptive “we,” Americans who will “rise” to “rebuild, reconcile and recover” our country.  

“Being American,” Gorman says, “is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

There is no point in lingering in the past, Gorman insists: “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.”

She imagines what America might be if we were able to “merge mercy with might, and might with right,” so that “love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.” 

Today I am wondering, can America live up to the challenge and the promise of Amanda Gorman’s “bold, fierce and free” vision? 

Can we merge mercy, might and justice to pave the way for love, rather than hatred and division, to become the legacy our generation will leave to the next? 


I have been a professor of comparative literature and media arts at a college for gifted students for more than a quarter-century. I teach courses like “Writing to Right the World,” “Women Write the World,” and “Leadership, Writing & Public Speaking for Social and Environmental Justice.”

I have met many young people who have the passion and even the talent of Amanda Gorman—but few who are able to offer their inspired visions to the world with such grace and aplomb. 

In these latter years of my time in the professoriate, I find myself no longer interested in teaching young people how to write proper academic essays. Yes, I want them to know how to do serious research, and to cite their sources responsibly. But what interests me most is developing three key capacities in young people: 

  • the ability to articulate interesting questions and follow these questions through to interesting, often unexpected outcomes; 
  • the confidence to write in their own personal voice, allowing their idiosyncracies of expression to shine through; 
  • and the poise and polish to present their ideas orally, whether live or on camera, in the strongest way possible. 

I encourage students to explore the intertwining dimensions of the personal, political and planetary in their writing; to write with both a hyper-local and a broadly global awareness; and to see how their personal experiences are conditioned by politics and place—as is every piece of writing, though for too long we have been taught to take the white European male perspective as the invisible, “neutral” default. 

Like Greta Thunberg and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Amanda Gorman speaks for many other young people, no less passionate but perhaps less able to articulate and convey their passions on a prominent public stage. 

The more those few exceptional ones step forward and lead the way, the more inspired, invigorated and enlivened their contemporaries will become, and the brighter their collective lights will shine out in the world.


It was a brilliant move for Joe Biden, the oldest incoming President of the United States, to invite powerful young women to grace his Inauguration. From Amanda Gorman to Lady Gaga and J-Lo, youthful energy blazed forth on the steps of the Capitol on 1/20/21, insisting that America must live up to its promise. 

While Joe himself looked back to Lincoln in calling for unity, young Amanda Gorman looked forward, proclaiming that “our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful” from all the challenges that have beset us of late. 

She closed with a challenge: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

I agree with Amanda: we must be the light that we want to see in the world. We must shine for our friends and neighbors, for our families and loved ones, for all the future generations yet to come.

In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness can’t drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

It’s our time, now, to be the light. 

Thank you, Amanda Gorman, for illuminating the path forward with such brilliance, poise and clarity. Shine on! 

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4 Comments

  1. Penny Gill

     /  January 21, 2021

    lovely, Jennifer, lovely…oh, that English teacher!! Nicely done..

    On Thu, Jan 21, 2021 at 5:56 PM Transition Times wrote:

    > Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D. posted: ” American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem > during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in > Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool) On > a day that still tingles with the electric pulse of the U.S. Presi” >

    Reply
  2. Wonderful Jennifer. I am still in awe of Amanda and her poem, and of so much symbolism of a brighter, more inclusive future that was on display yesterday.

    The past four years and the long battles in climate action have been exhausting, but for the first time in a long time, I feel hope. I am ready to be the light.

    Reply
  3. As much as I loved her powerful words and cadences, it was her gestural language that moved me the most. It wove energy fields that radiated out with exquisite grace to all watching. It was a dance and a prayer. Having attended Toastmasters, I was also struck by her dynamic but still presence, perfect delivery, connection to her audience, and sparkling eyes. I would hope that there were positive changes in consciousness and fresh inspiration for those witnessing, even jaded politicians and those who hold anger or despair about the conditions of the world.

    Reply
  1. Women & Leadership | Fired Up! Creative Expression for Challenging Times

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