Kamala Harris: Standing on Shoulders

Students (grades 6-12) reflect on and write about Kamala Harris and the continuing "fight to be heard," and hear the voices of young people about the barriers she has broken and what it means to them. Also see our elementary lesson.


Ask students to think about a person who inspires them to dream big?  Who makes them think that they can be or do anything they set their minds to? Who makes them want to live up to their best selves?  

Invite students to share:

  • Who is this person, and how are they an inspiration?

A Woman of Firsts

Share with students that on Saturday, November 8, 2020, we learned that Kamala Harris had been elected the next vice president of the United States. She and president-elect Joe Biden will take office on January 20, 2020. 

In her acceptance speech on November 8, Kamala Harris addressed women and girls in particular: "While I may be the first woman in this office,” she said, “I will not be the last.” Many women had fought to shatter this glass ceiling. On November 8, Kamala Harris finally broke through. 

In her speech, Harris honored her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who had come to the U.S. from India at the age of 19, and who “believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible.”

Harris went on to say:

So, I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women — Black women. Asian, white, Latina, Native American women … who have paved the way for this moment tonight, women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all. Including the Black women who are often, too often, overlooked, so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy. ….

Tonight I reflect on their struggle, their determination, and the strength of their vision to see what can be, unburdened by what has been. And I stand on their shoulders.

Harris didn’t just shatter gender barriers. In addition to being the first female vice president-elect of the United States, she is also the first Black person, the first South Asian, and first daughter of immigrants to reach the second-highest office in the land.  Harris will also be the first vice president to have graduated from a historically Black university: Howard University.

  • Ask students to share their impressions, reflections, thoughts, and feelings about this woman of many firsts.

Girls Reflect on Kamala Harris’ Election

Invite students to watch the following video, Inspiring the Next Generation: Girls React to Harris’ Election

Alternatively, invite students to read out the following from the clip of girls in Ohio reflecting on VP-elect Kamala Harris:

Harris’ words resonated with Woodward High School sophomore Kailei Brown and Riverview East Academy senior Rachel Scales.

"It just made me feel like we are able to do anything," Brown said. "We aren't limited just because of the color of our skin and that we are able to do whatever we put our minds to. That nothing is too great for us to accomplish."

"I'm just happy that she is breaking down stereotypes, one step at a time, literally. It took one vote at a time to now break down stereotypes that have been placed for years. We weren't allowed to vote, now we're being voted for," Scales said.

7-year-old Jordyn Smith, shared:  "I feel like I can accomplish anything in the world just like her because she's the first Black lady in the White House."   According to the news clip Jordyn knows if she believes it, she can achieve it. "Anything that comes to your mind, that's what you can be or you can do," she said.

In another first, Harris will also be the first U.S. vice president to have graduated from Howard University, a historically Black college and university.

The girls said this has also inspired them to consider an education at an HBCU.

Breakout Discussion

Invite students in breakout rooms to discuss:

  • What is the impact VP-elect Kamala Harris is having on these girls? Why?
  • How do you feel about this quote?: “We weren’t allowed to vote, now we’re being voted for.”
  • What are YOUR thoughts and feelings about vice president-elect Kamala Harris as a woman of firsts?
  • What do you feel about the quote “if you believe it, you can achieve it,” or as other people have said, “if you can see it, you can be it”?  How do these relate to  Kamala Harris?


Standing on Shoulders

Let’s take a closer look at Kamala Harris’s acceptance speech. Invite a student to read the following quote aloud:

So I’m thinking about [my mother] … and about the generations of women—Black women, Asian, white, Latina, Native American women throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight.  Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all.  Including the Black women who are often, too often, overlooked, so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.

All the women who have worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century.  One hundred years ago was the 19th Amendment. Fifty-five years ago was the Voting Rights Act. And now in 2020, with a new generation of women in our country who cast their ballots and continue to fight for their fundamental right to vote and be heard. 

Tonight I reflect on their struggle, their determination, and the strength of their vision to see what can be, unburdened by what has been. And I stand on their shoulders.” 

Ask students to discuss:

  • What “struggle” is Kamala Harris referring to?
  • Is the struggle over?  Explain.
  • What other struggles in this country’s history and today is this struggle connected to?
  • How is that connected to Kamala Harris’ multiple, intersecting identities?

Free Write

Tell students that they’ll now be invited to free write for 7-10 minutes in response to the images and words below.  

First, ask students to pick one of the images below to write about:

Macintosh HD:private:var:folders:wk:hnq8_hg57q3ddq9_rmq7l_cm0000gn:T:com.apple.iChat:Messages:Transfers:IMG_2767.jpg          Macintosh HD:private:var:folders:wk:hnq8_hg57q3ddq9_rmq7l_cm0000gn:T:com.apple.iChat:Messages:Transfers:KH.jpg

Note: The first image shows Kamala Harris and all previous U.S. vice presidents. See their photos and info in more detail here. The second image was created by Bria Goeller, and depicts civil rights leader Ruby Bridges, who was the first Black child to desegregate her all-white school in Louisiana in 1960. Bridges shared the image on social media.

Students’ writing might also reflect on the quotes below:

Vice president-elect Kamala Harris: "And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition. Lead with conviction. See yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they have never seen it before. But know that we will applaud you every step of the way."

Writer, feminist, and social activist Alice Walker: "To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back, perhaps to God; or to Gods. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love, and die. The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrow, is always a measure of what has gone before."

In breakout rooms with two students in each room, have students share out what image they picked and why.

Back in the main space, ask for several volunteers to share out which image they picked and why.



Invite students to look at the following Instagram posts (links and images below). 

These parents shared a takeaway from the election for them and their children. 

  • What is a takeaway from today’s lesson for you?