Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman summoned images dire and triumphant Wednesday as she called out to the world “even as we grieved, we grew."
In language referencing Biblical scripture and at times echoing the oratory of John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the 22-year-old Gorman read with urgency and assertion as she began by asking “Where can we find light/In this never-ending shade?” and used her own poetry and life story as an answer. The poem's very title, “The Hill We Climb,” suggested both labor and transcendence.
"We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
Of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we’ve found the power
To author a new chapter,
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves."
It was an extraordinary task for Gorman, the youngest by far of the poets who have read at presidential inaugurations since Kennedy invited Robert Frost in 1961, with other predecessors including Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander. A native and resident of Los Angeles and the country's first National Youth Poet Laureate, Gorman told The Associated Press last week that she planned to combine a message of hope for President Joseph Biden's inaugural without ignoring "the evidence of discord and division.” She had completed a little more than half of “The Hill We Climb” before Jan. 6 and the siege of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump,
“That day gave me a second wave of energy to finish the poem,” Gorman told the AP. She had said that she would not mention Jan. 6 specifically, but her reference was unmistakable:
"We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated."
Frost's appearance at the Kennedy inaugural was a kind of valedictory — he was 86 and died two years later. Gorman's career is just beginning. Her first two books come out later this year — the picture story “Change Things” and a bound edition of her inaugural poem. Ceremonial works are often quickly forgotten, but Angelou's “On the Pulse Of the Morning,” which she read at the 1993 inaugural of President Clinton, went on to sell more than 1 million copies as a book.
Invited to the inaugural late last month by first lady Jill Biden, Gorman has read at official occasions before — including a July 4 celebration when she was backed by the Boston Pops Orchestra. She has also made clear her desire to appear at a future inaugural, in a much greater capacity, an ambition she stated firmly in her poem.
"We, the successors of a country and a time,
Where a skinny black girl,
Descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,
Can dream of becoming president,
Only to find herself reciting for one."
Vice President Kamala Harris broke the barrier Wednesday that has kept men at the top ranks of American power for more than two centuries when she took the oath to hold the nation's second-highest office.
Harris was sworn in as the first female vice president — and the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the position — in front of the U.S. Capitol by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The moment was steeped in history and significance in more ways than one. She was escorted to the podium by Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, the officer who single-handedly took on a mob of Trump supporters as they tried to breach the Senate floor during the Capitol insurrection that sought to overturn the election results. Harris was wearing clothes from two young, emerging Black designers — a deep purple dress and coat.
After taking the oath of office, a beaming Harris hugged her husband, Douglas Emhoff, and gave President Joe Biden a first bump.
Her rise is historic in any context, another moment when a stubborn boundary falls away, expanding the idea of what's possible in American politics. But it's particularly meaningful because Harris is taking office at a moment of deep consequence, with Americans grappling over the role of institutional racism and confronting a pandemic that has disproportionately devastated Black and brown communities.
Those close to Harris say she'll bring an important — and often missing — perspective in the debates on how to overcome the many hurdles facing the new administration.
“In many folks' lifetimes, we experienced a segregated United States," said Lateefah Simon, a civil rights advocate and longtime Harris friend and mentee. “You will now have a Black woman who will walk into the White House not as a guest but as a second in command of the free world."
Harris — the child of immigrants, a stepmother of two and the wife of a Jewish man — “carries an intersectional story of so many Americans who are never seen and heard."
Harris, 56, moves into the vice presidency just four years after she first came to Washington as a senator from California, where she'd served as attorney general and as San Francisco's district attorney. She had expected to work with a White House run by Hillary Clinton, but President Donald Trump's victory quickly scrambled the nation's capital and set the stage for the rise of a new class of Democratic stars.
After Harris' own presidential bid fizzled, her rise continued when Biden chose her as his running mate last August. Harris had been a close friend of Beau Biden, the elder son of Joe Biden and a former Delaware attorney general who died in 2015 of cancer.
The inauguration activities included nods to her history-making role and her personal story.
Harris used two Bibles to take the oath, one that belonged to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the late civil rights icon whom Harris often cites as inspiration, and Regina Shelton, who helped raise Harris during her childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area. The drumline from Harris' alma mater, Howard University, joined the presidential escort.
To mark the occasion, the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the nation’s oldest sorority for Black women, which Harris joined at Howard University, declared Wednesday as Soror Kamala D. Harris Day.
“This event will certainly be a momentous occasion that will go down in the annals of our archives as one of the greatest days the founders’ of Alpha Kappa Alpha could have envisioned,” said Dr. Glenda Glover, the sorority’s international president and chief executive office.
She'll address the nation later in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a symbolic choice as the nation endures one of its most divided stretches since the Civil War.
Biden, in his inaugural address, reflected on the 1913 march for women's suffrage the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, during which some marchers were heckled and attacked.
“Today, we mark the swearing in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris. Don't tell me things can't change," Biden said.
Harris has often reflected on her rise through politics by recalling the lessons of her mother, who taught her to take on a larger cause and push through adversity.
“I was raised to not hear ‘no.’ Let me be clear about it. So it wasn’t like, “Oh, the possibilities are immense. Whatever you want to do, you can do,'" she recalled during a “CBS Sunday Morning” interview that aired Sunday. “No, I was raised to understand many people will tell you, ‘It is impossible,’ but don’t listen.'"
Harris' swearing-in holds more symbolic weight than that of any vice president in modern times.
She will expand the definition of who gets to hold power in American politics, said Martha S. Jones, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All."
People who want to understand Harris and connect with her will have to learn what it means to graduate from a historically Black college and university rather than an Ivy League school. They will have to understand Harris' traditions, like the Hindu celebration of Diwali, Jones said.
“Folks are going to have to adapt to her rather than her adapting to them,” Jones said.
Her election to the vice presidency should be just the beginning of putting Black women in leadership positions, Jones said, particularly after the role Black women played in organizing and turning out voters in the November election.
“We will all learn what happens to the kind of capacities and insights of Black women in politics when those capacities and insights are permitted to lead,” Jones said.
Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday, declaring that “democracy has prevailed." He swore the oath of office to take the helm of a deeply divided nation and inheriting a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors.
Biden's inauguration came at a time of national tumult and uncertainty, a ceremony of resilience as the hallowed American democratic rite unfurled at a U.S. Capitol battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks ago. On a chilly Washington day dotted with snow flurries, a bipartisan trio of ex-presidents along with the elite of nation's government gathered, ensuring the quadrennial ceremony persevered, even though it was encircled by security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious and democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed," Biden said. "This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day in history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”
And then he pivoted to challenges ahead, acknowledging the surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States. Biden looked out over a capital city dotted with empty storefronts that attest to the pandemic’s deep economic toll and where summer protests laid bare the nation’s renewed reckoning on racial injustice.
And he was not applauded by his predecessor.
Flouting tradition, Donald Trump departed Washington on Wednesday morning ahead of the inauguration rather than accompany his successor to the Capitol. Though three other former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — gathered to watch the ceremonial transfer of power, Trump, awaiting his second impeachment trial, instead flew to Florida after stoking grievance among his supporters with the lie that Biden’s win was illegitimate.
Biden, in his third run for the presidency, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. On his first day, Biden will take a series of executive actions — on the pandemic, climate, immigration and more — to undo the heart of Trump's agenda at a moment with the bonds of the republic strained.
“Biden will face a series of urgent, burning crises like we have not seen before, and they all have to be solved at once. It is very hard to find a parallel in history,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “I think we have been through a near-death experience as a democracy. Americans who will watch the new president be sworn in are now acutely aware of how fragile our democracy is and how much it needs to be protected.”
Biden will come to office with a well of empathy and resolve born by personal tragedy as well as a depth of experience forged from more than four decades in Washington. At age 78, he was the oldest president inaugurated.
More history was made at his side, as Kamala Harris became the first woman to be vice president. The former U.S. senator from California is also the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency and will become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government.
The two will be sworn in during an inauguration ceremony with few parallels in history.
Tens of thousands of troops are on the streets to provide security precisely two weeks after a violent mob of Trump supporters, incited by the Republican president, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory.
The tense atmosphere evoked the 1861 inauguration of Lincoln, who was secretly transported to Washington to avoid assassins on the eve of the Civil War, or Roosevelt's inaugural in 1945, when he opted for a small, secure ceremony at the White House in the waning months of World War II.
The day began with a reach across the aisle after four years of bitter partisan battles under Trump. At Biden's invitation, congressional leaders from both parties bowed their heads in prayer in the socially distanced service just a few blocks from the White House.
Once at the Capitol, Biden will be administered the oath by Chief Justice John Roberts; Harris will be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court. Vice President Mike Pence, standing in for Trump, was sitting nearby as Lady Gaga, holding a gold microphone, sang the National Anthem accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps band.
The theme of Biden’s approximately 30-minute speech will be “America United,” and aides said it would be a call to set aside differences during a moment of national trial.
Biden will then oversee a “Pass in Review,” a military tradition that honors the peaceful transfer of power to a new commander in chief. Then, Biden, Harris and their spouses will be joined by that bipartisan trio of former presidents to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony.
Later, Biden will join the end of a slimmed-down inaugural parade as he moves into the White House. Because of the pandemic, much of this year's parade will be a virtual affair featuring performances from around the nation.
In the evening, in lieu of the traditional glitzy balls that welcome a new president to Washington, Biden will take part in a televised concert that also marks the return of A-list celebrities to the White House orbit after they largely eschewed Trump. Among those in the lineup: Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“I protested 45’s inauguration, and I wanted to be here when he left,” said Raelyn Maxwell of Park City, Utah. ”And I wanted to celebrate the new president.” She brought a bouquet of roses she hoped to toss to Harris and some champagne to toast the occasion.
Trump is the first president in more than a century to skip the inauguration of his successor. In a cold wind, Marine One took off from the White House and soared above a deserted capital city to his own farewell celebration at nearby Joint Base Andrews. There, he boarded Air Force One for the final time as president for the flight to his Florida estate.
"I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening and I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better," said Trump, who wished the incoming administration well but once again declined to mention Biden's name.
The symbolism was striking: The very moment Trump disappeared into the doorway of Air Force One, Biden stepped out of the Blair House, the traditional guest lodging for presidents-in-waiting, and into his motorcade for the short ride to church.
Trump did adhere to one tradition and left a note for Biden in the Oval Office, according to the White House, which did not release its contents. And Trump, in his farewell remarks, hinted at a political return, saying “we will be back in some form.”
And he, without question, will shadow Biden’s first days in office.
Trump’s second impeachment trial could start as early as this week. That could test the ability of the Senate, poised to come under Democratic control, to balance impeachment proceedings with confirmation hearings and votes on Biden’s Cabinet choices.
Biden was eager to go big early, with an ambitious first 100 days that includes a push to speed up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass a $1.9 trillion virus relief package. On Day One, he’ll also send an immigration proposal to Capitol Hill that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally.
He also planned a 10-day blitz of executive orders on matters that don’t require congressional approval — a mix of substantive and symbolic steps to unwind the Trump years. Among the planned steps: rescinding travel restrictions on people from several predominantly Muslim countries; rejoining the Paris climate accord; issuing a mask mandate for those on federal property; and ordering agencies to figure out how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border.
Kamala Harris has been sworn in as the nation's first female vice president.
The former U.S. senator from California is also the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency and becomes the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government.
Also read: Biden becomes 46th president of US
She was sworn in Wednesday by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court. Vice President Mike Pence, standing in for President Donald Trump, was sitting nearby as Lady Gaga sang the national anthem accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps band.
Joe Biden has officially become the 46th president of the United States.
Biden took the oath of office just before noon Wednesday during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. The presidential oath was administered by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
Biden was sworn in using a Bible that has been in his family since 1893 and was used during his swearing-in as vice president in 2009 and 2013. The 5-inch thick Bible, which could be seen on a table next to Biden’s chair on the dais, has a Celtic cross on its cover and was also used each time he was sworn- n as a U.S. senator.
Biden’s late son, Beau, also used the Bible for his own swearing-in ceremony as attorney general of Delaware and helped carry the Bible to his father’s 2013 ceremony.