Screen shot of Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman

Words mattered at the historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The inaugural ceremonies on Jan. 20, 2021, created a path for unity and celebrated the absence of the toxicity that permeated Donald Trump’s presidency.

The inaugural tweets from President Biden and Vice President Harris set a tone of bipartisanship and optimism.

“There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face. That’s why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families,” wrote President Biden in his @POTUS message.

“Ready to serve,” tweeted Vice President Harris, the first woman, the first Black and the first South Asian American vice president.

A spoken word performance was given by inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, 22, America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration. Ms. Gorman captured the moment of anxiety and hope in America with her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

“The new dawn blooms as we free it,” she said. “For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it – if only we are brave enough to be it.”

Ms. Gorman told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that she studied the work of former inaugural poets Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco in preparation for writing her poem. Only four presidents – John F. Kennedy in 1961, Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997, Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013, and Joe Biden in 2021 – have had poets read at their inaugurations, according to, “Inaugural Poems in History.”

 She said she also researched the words of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Winston Churchill to see ways that “rhetoric has been used for good.”

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Ms. Gorman said, “I was about half-way through that process when the January 6 insurrection happened at the Capitol. … I was not surprised at what happened. I had seen the signs … and I was not trying to turn a blind eye to that. But what it did is that it energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope. … I felt that was the type of poem I needed to write, and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear.”

Ms. Gorman said she has a mantra that she says before every reading she gives.

“I close my eyes and I say, ‘I am the daughter of Black lighters, who are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.’”

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.