Amanda Gorman captivated us — along with the entire world — on Wednesday as she graced the inaugural stage with her eloquent poetry. She met the historical moment with sublime alliteration that revealed transcendent truth, her words resonating with power, grace, and hope. Uniquely, it is what her words are not that makes them truly radiant. Her words are not effortless. They are thoughtful. They are fought for. They are measured and researched. Her words are right on time, anything but delayed. Yet delayed is not a phrase unfamiliar to this luminous poet laureate and Harvard graduate.
Gorman has spoken forthrightly about her processing disorder, hypersensitivity to sound, and speech impediment. In addition to being a phenomenal poet, she is an advocate. She started reading later than most of her peers and recounts beautifully the moment that an elementary teacher shared poetry with her. She worked hard towards fluency, navigated the challenging process of defining supports and academic accommodations with her mom by her side. She does not shy away from discussing her whole journey and that is equally a gift to our community. In speaking to The Harvard Gazette in 2018, the Los Angeles native said of her disability:
“I always saw it as a strength because since I was experiencing these obstacles in terms of my auditory and vocal skills, I became really good at reading and writing. I realized that at a young age when I was reciting the Marianne Deborah Williamson quote that ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure’ to my mom.”
This statement speaks to a complex truth. There is strength in atypical journeys. We know that timing is not everything in our community. Delayed does not mean never. Value is not measured, it is inherent. These truths are all strength-building gifts. But they are often dismissed as platitudes in typical circles. Nodded away with smiles and best wishes as true, but not true enough to make space for neurodiversity. There is also a strength that comes from the struggle of being counted out. The desire and the grit that is cultivated in our children who are defined as other than typical sharpens them in ways that are powerful and painful. It readies them in a way no glide path to academic success ever could.
Typical is not the exclusive domain of honor, service, and giftedness. It is not the singular path to a limitless future. Yet, typical is too often the bar set for access to opportunity and even voice in our larger communities. Systemic racial and socioeconomic inequities make the journey to access even more perilous. Access to education and student life is essential for all children. For many of us who have been at tables and heard words like “delayed” as an excuse to limit access to things like poetry, literature, art, science, service, student life, and curriculum, Amanda Gorman’s words serve as salve and sharpen our resolve. A resolve to ensure that we don’t allow delayed to mean deterred. There are no platitudes in her prose.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
My children and I first started reading Amanda Gorman’s work a few years ago when she published her first collection, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough. This June, my youngest studied her poem, “Ode to Our Ocean,” for #WorldOceanDay. Her work is deep and light all at once. I encourage you to dive right in! She has created a diverse and beautiful library of poems, articles, and empowering programs to explore. Her journey to exist beyond the expected outcomes set before her is important to learn and understand. Her passion for giving others the tools they need to light the flame within themselves is world-changing.
As you immerse yourself in the wonderful world of words this exceptional bard has gifted us, I hope that you let go of the notion that delayed is a weakness. Let go of the lie that delayed is hopeless. Know that delayed is right on time. Disability is not weakness, it is strength. Intellectual disabilities are not disqualifying. We are so grateful for Amanda Gorman’s words but also for her example of what being brave enough to be the light looks like.