Amanda Gorman Was the Light of the Inauguration

I felt numb at first, but the wisdom of someone 20 years my junior finally brought me to tears

Jessica Valenti
Published in
3 min readJan 20, 2021
Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman prepares to speak at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, I waited for the wave of relief to come over me. Friends were posting on Twitter and Instagram about how they hadn’t stopped crying since the morning, and how they felt hope for the first time in four years. I was desperate to feel the same.

The truth, though, was that I felt numb. Call it a defense mechanism or a trauma response to the violence and injustice of the Trump administration, call it the dull exhaustion of dealing with a deadly pandemic over this last year. But whatever the case — as the inauguration ceremony began, I felt no weight suddenly lifted, no sudden surge of optimism.

Even the joy at seeing Kamala Harris become the first woman and person of color to be vice president — an objectively incredible moment for America and feminism — was tamped down by a feeling of looming dread.

Because despite the hope of a new administration and a reprieve from the last four years of hate and ineptitude, right-wing extremism and violence did not magically disappear once Donald Trump took a plane to Mar-a-Lago. Trump brought America’s simmering racism and misogyny to the surface and made it unapologetic and emboldened — I can think of no deadlier combination. And if the insurrection at the Capitol was any indication of what’s to come, we should all be preparing ourselves for more discord in the coming months.

I know this is not what anyone wants to hear today. I know we all need a moment of respite and catharsis. But I couldn’t help but be afraid: fearful of the far-right backlash that’s to come, and worried for the safety of progressive lawmakers and leaders.

But then, as I stewed in that fear, something happened. Well, two things happened. First, I heard my 10-year-old daughter and her learning pod start to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” If that seems a little too on the nose, please know they stopped after the first verse because they couldn’t remember the words — but the sentiment was there. They wanted to feel like a part of something, and they…



Jessica Valenti
Writer for

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.