Have students free associate with "the inauguration" and create a word cloud, using the Mentimeter app or other word cloud generator.
Ask students what they notice about the word cloud and what they know about the inauguration.
Elicit and explain that:
- The U.S. presidential inauguration is a ceremony to mark the start of a new four-year term of the president of the United States. An inauguration takes place at the start of every presidential term, whether a president is newly elected or is staying in office for another term. Since 1937, the inaugural ceremony has taken place on January 20 of the year following the election. Each president must take the oath of office before assuming their duties.
- Traditionally, presidential inaugurations have also been a celebration of the peaceful transfer of power. "Our history has been that even when one candidate doesn’t win, we accept the results. We move on and we wish the new president well,” said Jim Bendat, a presidential inauguration historian.
- But the inauguration of January 20, 2021, was different. It followed weeks in which Donald Trump and key Republicans refused to accept election results and tried to actively undermine the certification of those results in Congress. The usual process was further upended by a violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 as Trump supporters tried to storm the building where the certification was taking place.
- Covid-19 distancing protocols had already changed the way the inauguration would be conducted, but the insurrection and the heightened security measures that resulted, meant that the streets around the Capitol would be sealed off and that tens of thousands of police and military officers stood guard in the nation's capital. Across the country at state capitals officials were also monitoring threats.
Despite all these events and obstacles, the inauguration went forward as planned. Joe Biden was sworn is as president, and Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice president. The day included a speech by Biden and performances by Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga, among others.
The event also included the recitation of an original poem written just for that moment.
Who is Amanda Gorman?
Ask students if they know who Amanda Gorman is.
Elicit and explain that Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. She is 22 years old and lives in Los Angeles. According to the New York Times:
“She was brought to the Inaugural Committee’s attention by first lady Jill Biden, who saw her recite a poem at the Library of Congress, and was struck by her performance...
To prepare for her appearance, Gorman, who has a speech impediment, read the poem aloud over and over, “practicing it and trying to let it be known in my mouth, but not feel robotic,” she said in an interview. Early reviews of her performance were glowing: on CNN, she was praised for summing “up with emotion and beautiful eloquence the idea of what this country came close to losing.”
“The Hill We Climb”
Play the video of National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman reciting “The Hill We Climb” at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration:
Ask students one after the other to share:
- How did listening to the poem make you feel? Why?
Share with students the text of the whole poem here:
Invite students to read it over again, picking out a line or two that resonate with them.
Ask them next to read the lines they picked out loud, one student after another, as they create a new poem of their own, using Amanda Gorman's poem as building blocks.
You might also have them drop their lines into the chat, then ask a volunteer to read the newly created poem out loud.
Note the kind of poem thus created, any flow and repetition, anything that might stand out.
Next, invite students one after the other to share their lines again and, this time, explain why those lines resonated with them.
If time allows, invite students in the same order to share any additions, connections, or reflections based what they heard from their classmates.
About Writing "The Hill We Climb"
Explain that when Amanda Gorman was writing her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” she faced a challenge unlike anyone who had recited a poem at a presidential inauguration in the past.
Gorman set out to craft a poem that was both hopeful and realistic, one that reflected the political divisions that have fractured the country, but also the promise of greater unity. She finished writing the poem just after rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“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. 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,” she said in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”
- What are your thoughts about what Gorman set out to do?
- Do you feel Gorman was successful? Explain.
Gorman ends her poem with:
For there was always light.
If only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.
- What do you think Gorman means by these lines?
- What might courage inspire you to see?
- What light would you want to be in this world?
Consider having students create a jamboard or use padlets to share their thoughts visually.