Amanda Gorman Took the Nation — and English Classes — by Storm

Bienkowski observed, “She walked there as though what was so much more important — and it is so much more important — is saying what she had to say: the message. I think people’s fear of public speaking can come from a place of ego, like they want to look good and sound good, and she just seemed to present herself prioritizing her message over everything else.”

Gabrielle Lurie

Bienkowski observed, “She walked there as though what was so much more important — and it is so much more important — is saying what she had to say: the message. I think people’s fear of public speaking can come from a place of ego, like they want to look good and sound good, and she just seemed to present herself prioritizing her message over everything else.”

Prior to January 20th, if you had asked me to associate a poem with the incoming Biden administration, I would have said, “the one where hope and history rhyme,” referring to Seamus Heaney’s moving poem “The Cure at Troy.” President Biden often used the piece on the campaign trail, finding meaning and inspiration in its words of healing. Still, I don’t think I really felt hope and history rhyme until a different poet took the stage at Biden’s inauguration. 

With her hands flitting about the podium like doves, her voice steady and youthful, and words that pierced to the core of the American paradox, Amanda Gorman took the nation by storm.  I watched her recite — no, perform — her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and for the first time felt like there was really a chance that our country could be okay. 

The following Monday was the first day of the second semester, and my asynchronous assignment for English class was all about Gorman’s poetry. We had to watch and respond to questions about her TED Talk, inauguration performance, and her reading her poem, “The Miracle of Morning.” It made perfect sense to me that this would be our assignment — poetry taking up the national spotlight must be every English teacher’s dream. 

I was right: at least fourteen out of the sixteen teachers in the Allderdice English department used Gorman’s poetry in their classes in some form or another. So what made Gorman’s art, especially that inauguration poem, so enticing to English teachers? Ms. Katherine Bienkowski (my teacher!) summed it up: 

It felt sort of miraculous and exciting. It’s such a moment for so many people who have waited so long for there to be something different in front of us and to have a little bit of hope. Then to have poetry celebrated — and poetry written by someone who is so young and mature, like the utter opposite of the people who have been in charge for so long. And the poem itself was so accessible in terms of the imagery and language, and it felt so hopeful. I feel like so many people connected to it but especially English teachers were like, This is what we’ve been talking about! Poetry is so relevant, and I sort of felt chills just thinking about what that poem represented for so many people.

Bienkowski recalled Obama’s inauguration in 2009 when Elizabeth Alexander recited “Praise Song for the Day.” She used that in a lesson plan too, but found Gorman’s poem to be more engaging in the classroom. “The language is so clear,” she said, “and the prosody — the poetic sound of it — is so accessible to so many people.”

Ms. Jennifer Mazzocco agrees that this piece stands out within the long history of inaugural poems. “I think they can often have an overly hopeful tone to them … but I think that her poem was also like, ‘Yeah, we’re not in good shape. There’s things that need to change and there’s ways we need to look at what it means to be an American.’”

Gorman certainly didn’t candy-coat the reality of our country’s perilous situation, and because of that realism, her message of cautious optimism felt truly authentic. Without explicitly mentioning policy details or bitter political divides, she brought clarity to the dreary consciousness of a country in torment. Ms. Amy Galloway Barr reflected, “I think right now our country is really trying to heal from some serious, serious traumas that are coming from all over the place, and I think we all collectively needed her to speak those words over us so that we could come out on the other side.”

Galloway Barr loves teaching poetry, especially to teens who are “so full of angsty teenage trauma and drama.” She describes the experience of interacting with poetry as having a before and after; you aren’t the same person after you’ve read it. “Whoever you are, in the moment when you’re sort of ingesting a poem, it comes out on the other side. Like the poem passes through you, and who you are leaves an indelible mark on that poem.”

Gorman’s poem passed through our country at a pivotal time, and students recognized its significance. Jadyn Gibson, a senior in Bienkowski’s African American Literature class, said, ‘I felt as though seeing a black youth at the inauguration after these four years; in and of itself was very symbolic and representative of [people of color] and women. It felt as though a curse has been lifted and we can finally just turn off the static of what the politics were preaching.”

Part of Gibson’s assignment, slightly different than mine in English 4, was to watch and respond to Gorman’s 2017 The Moth story, “Roar,” in which she recounts her experience auditioning for the part of Nala in The Lion King on Broadway. Gibson wrote, “she mentions that if that hadn’t failed she wouldn’t be where she is, she wouldn’t have this voice now, she would have the power that she has obtained.” In reflecting on Gorman’s impact on her, she said simply, “I could go on and on about how inspirational she is to me.”

Other students appreciated the assignments they completed about Gorman. Senior Jordan Gluzman, also a student in Bienkowski’s English 4 class, noted, “I like when teachers bring real life topics into the classroom. I also liked having the opportunity to reread and break down the poem, which allowed me to discover more things I enjoyed or found interesting about it.”

Jordan Gluzman’s response to Bienkowski’s assignment to draw a symbol and an image that captures the essence of Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb.” (Jordan Gluzman)

Gibson and Gluzman both noted that their love for Gorman’s poetry is an anomaly as they don’t usually engage with lengthy poems; 9th grader Oliver Hsu agrees. “I have nothing against poetry, I just find it kind of boring, but Amanda Gorman is absolutely an exception for me.” In regards to the inauguration poem, he explained, “The language and rhyming and flow and everything like that was very captivating, and once I started reading I couldn’t stop until I reached the end.”

Hsu is in one of Mazzocco’s English 1 classes; both Mazzoco and Galloway Barr had their students write their own poems. Mazzocco’s students wrote occasional poems to commemorate an event, and Galloway Barr, in honor of Gorman’s “Miracle of Morning,” directed her kids to write an “ode to an everyday hero in their life.” 

They received dozens of responses that run the gamut from quirky to profound. Hsu, for example, wrote about the compost at his home, while Randall Quinn, another student of Mazzocco, wrote about his annual visits to Colorado. Quinn says that by studying Gorman’s poetry and writing his own, he “was able to learn about how powerful words can be.” 

Two of Galloway Barr’s students are Siming Tang and Deniz Finkel. For his ode poem, Tang wrote about an old Magnolia tree in his yard. “Gorman’s poetry about the eventfulness of last year inspired me to write a poem about a fast moving world, and then put it in contrast with the stillness and never-changing aspect of the tree,” he said. 

Finkel, on the other hand, chose to write about a person: his mailman. “He always arrives at the same time every day — around 11 am,” he said, “and always greets us with a great big smile. But because of the pandemic and online schooling, for the first time, I saw him every day, and got to appreciate how difficult his job really is.” Finkel showed his mom the poem he wrote, and she printed it out to share it with the mailman. “He said it was one of the most meaningful ‘thank yous’ he had ever received, and that he had not considered himself an essential worker compared to a nurse or a policeman.” Finkel credits Galloway Barr with providing a creative way for him to interact with Gorman’s poetry, one that allowed him to do something nice for someone else. 

Bienkowski said that senior Daynell Griffin “made a sketch that showed a Black fist holding a sunflower that I still have on some of my [daily slideshow] endnotes just because I like the image so much.” (Daynell Griffin)

For me, poetry is not quite what jumps to mind when I think of how to improve someone’s life, let alone convince someone of a cause I’m passionate about. Mazzocco, however, points out that poetry “can be valuable for some people to give them a broader perspective or even change their perspective; I think sometimes people who wouldn’t necessarily be moved by an argument could be moved by a poem or a song or something that creates a different reaction.” 

Bienkowski echoes this idea; “It has so much to offer because it can be such a speaking from the heart in language that suits you instead of trying to fit into the conventions of an essay or dialogue conventions of a short story. … Just like music. There’s something so innate about the power of music, like hearing the rhythm with the sounds and the melodies.” 

Galloway Barr went as far as to imply that poetry is absolutely vital to our lives. When I asked her what the value of it is, she responded immediately, “That’s like saying ‘why do we take deep breaths when we need to breathe?’” Gorman allowed the nation the space to take a deep breath when we desperately needed it. 

Gorman aspires to be more than the inaugural poet; she has said many times that winning the presidency herself is in her sights. Finkel believes she’ll be “the president of my generation,” and she’s well on her way to becoming a well-rounded national figure. Since the inauguration, Gorman has signed a contract with IMG Models, recited a poem at the Super Bowl, and spoke out about a traumatic experience she had with a racist security guard.  

These might seem disparate, but the common thread through all of them is teaching. “Her mom is a teacher,” Galloway Barr said, “so to me, as a parent and a teacher, I was looking at her [during the inauguration] with that pride, like ‘Oh, look at you! And I know how your mom feels in this moment!’ And my mom is a teacher, and I felt like there’s this connectedness that we feel, because what she’s doing is teaching. She’s doing it in a different way, but that’s education.”


Fifteen of Mazzocco and Galloway Barr’s students have generously shared the poems they turned in for their Amanda Gorman-inspired assignments. They are published below, starting with the students mentioned in this article, followed by the rest in alphabetical order by student last name.  

Ode to the Mailman

Deniz Finkel


Mr. Mailman

Predictable as the sun rise

You always come to our street with such a warm smile

You walk across our lawn

In snow, rain and sleet

To ring the bell to let us know

There is a letter or package with our names on it

One of us rushes to the door to say ‘thank you’

Sometimes you are already gone, disappeared behind the bushes

But you still manage to turn around and we hear your voice cut through the houses

“You’re welcome” your warm smile travels with your voice

Strangest times these are

We are always home, and you always arrive

You bring the world to us

As we lock into the safety of our homes

Our dog always greets you with a joyful bark to show its gratitude

It took a pandemic not to take you for granted

How essential your daily route is

How your dedication keeps our sanity

So, we offer our own package of gratitude

Thank you


Underneath the Earth

Oliver Hsu


Down in the dark and the damp

Cramped between the dryer and the single hanging lamp

The bins that hold the worms lie side by side

And every single worm inside is blind

It had been a while since I had gone to feed the worms

The cool air eased my mind and soothed my concerns

The dim light was calm and the stone walls were comfy

I lay out the compost (it was rather lumpy)

I opened the lid of the worm bin to see

If the worms were awake, if they’d come to eat

I placed all the compost atop the moist soil

And waited and watched as the worms writhed and roiled

They rose to the surface to eat the new food

Then sunk slowly back into the dirt that they used

They travelled quite aimlessly through their enclosure

I watched them and waited for the feast to be over

The wet newspaper strips which kept their soil soft

Were across the top layer, splayed out and dissolved

And as I stood laying them out in their rows

I felt strangely calm, like a slow-rising dough

A sense of peace came just from watching them burrow

They’ll live here for decades, mere meters below

They might do things without us, living lives of their own

And I’d never know



Quinn Randall


Every June my family goes to Telluride Colorado.

It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

The plane rides were always the worst, but it was always worth it when I got to see my

grandmother’s soft smile and big laugh.

Living at my grandmother’s house for that short week was like living in paradise.

I would go out onto my grandmother’s balcony and see the amazing scenery.

The giant mountains, bigger than any building in Pittsburgh.

And river that flows from the mountain like a silver snake weaving throughout the town is truly


The bluegrass festival that happens around the same time we go and stay fills the whole

town with loud music.

We would often go down to the festival to enjoy the music and it was always fun to see the

people dancing as I eat my drippy vanilla ice cream cone.

My grandmother often took me and my older sister out into the town to explore.

When we got tired, we would come back and my grandmother’s house and enjoy the hot tub

she has in her backyard.

The river water moved extremely fast like an avalanche or a stampede coming down from the


I once lost a shoe in the river when I was little.

I would cry and cry, I knew I would never get it back.

But my kind grandmother told me that it would be okay, and I have nothing to be sad about.

As we drive away from the town, I can’t help but miss the place.

I knew that in just one year that I would be back to see my grandmother and the beautiful

place she lives.



Siming Tang


A silhouette stands static

Against a backdrop of blurring change,

Falling petals Illuminating the dark world that I no longer recognize.

Through blizzards, branches may sway,

But I may rest underneath them with confidence that the roots underneath me stay fixed.

Oh Magnolia, whose blossoming arms herald the arrival of warmth,

You remind me that after every winter, there is a spring.


The Man at the Market



He sees the roses

Atop the bundle of thorns

He fills a room with smiles and laughter

And the garden in his mind blooms

He meets droves of people at the market

Directing them to keep everyone safe

Sowing the seeds of their gardens

Connecting with them for a brief moment,

Despite the barriers between them

He is dedicated to his work

Often singled out for tasks

Because it will be completed and done well

He is well-respected

But dissatisfied


And his garden often goes days without sunlight

Caught in a cycle of looking at the same clouds every day

He comes home to his family

Excitedly greeting them

Showing new products from the market

Sometimes bringing new sweets home

He hugs them tightly

Knowing that they are the most important thing

In the world to him

And then settles down for dinner

Often eating right out of the serving dishes

His eyes soon fluttering

Between rest and consciousness

Somewhat resentful of his drained energy

Eventually he goes up to his room


But struggles to fall asleep

Trying to quell the discomfort

And the schedule continues

He worries about the future

He knows deep sadness

Sometimes it is hard for him to see what is right in front of him

But he strives to see the world in its vibrancy,

In all its intricacies,


And spread this vision to those around him





My mom is an everyday hero

As a nurse in a hospital saving lives

Helping people that others hold dear

From ages of eighty to kids age of five

Not afraid, saving people in this time of fear

My mom is an everyday hero

As a mom in the house helping with homework

Or cleaning up a mess while maintaining a smirk

She is a hero and is always there

Being a hero with lots of care


As Time Passes

Marcel Craig


Waking up has never been harder

Yet I do so for reason that are slowly becoming less and less clear

I get up just to sit back down.

I get up just to look at a screen

I get up just to complete work that has little meaning

I get up just to lay back down

Repeating the cycle over and over again


I think to myself how and why did this happen

How and why the unseen hand that has grasped the world

Tightening its grip slowly but surely crushing till insanity

But what is insanity?

Doing something over and over with little to no result

Am I insane?

Insane for getting up just to sit back down

Insane for getting up just to look at a screen

Insane for completing work that holds little meaning

Insane for doing all that just to repeat it again and again and again

Day in and day out

As I wait for the invisible hand to crush me under its sickening fury


But I wait

Waiting for the hand that one’s grasped this world to loosen its grip

Waiting for the time my wings are spread and ready for flight

Waiting for people to crumble their pride as we crumble the unseen hand

And when it is done

When we are finally free from the hand

The hand that has claimed many, many lives

Then will I be insane

Then will the days of isolation be worth it

Then will the question is it more important to live or survive become clear


I will walk free from the hands that one’s held me down

Wings free from the grasp of the unseen hands.


America the Burning

Sophia Dull


We’re burning, aren’t we?

I asked my parents,

As the banners of a coward

Pierced the capital.


We burn as…

The lies of someone

Whom we depended on

Tried to bring our country to ruin.


We burn as…

Our planet suffers,

The ice melts,

And the tear the west limb from limb.


We burn as…

A virus,

Ransacks our lands,

And slaughters thousands.


And we burn…

As our own people,

Turn against each other,

In a war that never should have begun.


O beautiful.

For smoky skies and poisoned waves of grain.

For melting mountain majesties above the warlike plain.

America. America.

We fight in our own streets.

To throw away our brotherhood,

Into the rising sea.



Roman Griffin


Up bright and early, air pods in my ear bumping youngboy

Sun Justs popping up in the sky, it looks like a mixture of red, orange, and yellow

mc griddle sandwich is fire, but the mc Donald’s orange juice is nasty

Look outside see crows in the air, trees bright and green

Cars all beside me, white lady on the phone driving next to me

Two deer’s and a cub on the side of road, eating the wet grass

Look straight and see a long road, with no ending

Heat was barley blasting, blanket on me, freezing

Old head music bumping in the background of my music,

wondering when pops gone turn that shit down, phone frequently going off,

but I just felt like sleeping, Outside looks like a work of art but from nature,

Pennsylvania’s hills, sights you don’t get back at home

At this point in this poem, I don’t have much to say,

there shouldn’t be a specific way to end, my poem

Hope you enjoyed these 15 lines, of art


My First Nail

Lynda Johnson


I felt like a kid in a candy shop, eager to

touch everything in the store. I knew I could achieve my goal with

positive thinking. I’ve worked so hard.

Saved every penny

Just to buy everything I needed, to do my first nail.

Sitting on my back porch, listening to music.

I put in my headphones so there were no distractions.

The first couple times it was a little messy.

And I am not going to lie, I did get discouraged.

But I watched some videos.

And figured it out.

I was finished with my first nail!


Finally Free

Aya Koide


I go to sleep Saturday.

Thinking of an excuse not to go

Trying to remember what I learned last week.

But the knowledge in my head is slipping away.

My heart races just thinking about going.

I let the tears run down my face into my pillow.


I try to remember the better parts.

I try to remember the reason I go.

I try to remember the people who keep me going.

I try to go to sleep

But my body seems to refuse to rest.

I hate Japanese school.


The stress that fills up on a Sunday is incomparable.

It feels like a huge boulder balancing on my shoulder.

I need it to be lifted.

I need it to be crushed.

There’s nothing there I enjoy anymore.


I wake up and the first tear falls down my face.

Followed by what feels like a thousand more.

My heart beats in my head

“I don’t want to go!”

My parents have heard me complain for centuries

They give in and no longer force me to go.

I never show up again.

I never have to go again.

I never have to wake up at 9:15 on any Sundays.

I never have to drive an hour out again.

I never have to force a smile on my face.

I never have to take those stupid tests.

The boulder on my shoulder’s shatters.


Golden Time

Aryan Mishra 


A feeling that was not obliterated

But prisoned in the limitless blanket of memories

A feeling that was not my past

But my emerging future

When I gaze at the blurred window of my memory

I see myself walking with an old and tall man

Talking with a distinct voice

Knocking on a mysterious door

I recognize the setting without any lies

I still see the faces in front of my eyes

The man was my grandpa!

We were taking a trip throughout the town

Meeting different people and exploring aboveground

The time was gold

And the love was crystal clear


My mind was like an unsolved puzzle of nostalgia memories

I turned my page to a discrete past

Which was closer to my soul than I supposed

accommodated more than I proposed

I saw the incident like an episode displayed in the matrix of my mind


It was the fall of 2018

We were going abroad

I saw the planes

I saw the seas

For the second time in my life

To finally arrive at home

The clouds were racing

And the winds were breathing

After traveling numerous locations

We had already reached our destination

I recognized the faces

But one face didn’t recognize mine

Because of the nature of time

But when he did

It was the happiest moment of his life

I saw that in his joyful smile

I saw that in his eyes brimmed with tears


He was exhausted sitting in the same seat 

Tired of struggling each day 

I was a rising hope to his descending life 

As time passed by

I helped him each day and night 

Did everything in my power to reduce his struggle 

And increase his happiness 

But for what? 

For the blessings 

For the joy 

Months passed by 

And I felt like the richest person in the world 

Carrying the blessings and hope 

Beyond the scope 

Time flew 

To the point 

It became the last time I saw that face 

The journey was over 

The time was gold


When Times Were Simpler

Jenna Morabito


The year is 2020.

It is only July.

After everything going on in the world the only thing I want is my yearly get away,

the time to spend with my family.

When times were simpler.

To not think about anything but the sound of the waves as they crash onto the ocean floor.

To exit the educational mindset everyone has eagerly envied during the school year,

To leave all my worries in Pittsburgh and only worry about whether the restaurant I go to will

be open or not.

To not worry about people judging me, but to worry about if I remembered to bring my mask

with me.

The time where I finally feel free to do what I want, but with restriction.

Instead of being able to walk on the boardwalk freely, I now worry if someone coughs on me

as I wait in line to get my ice cream.

When times were simpler.

When I sat at Rosenfeld’s eating my French toast, now I stand at Rosenfeld’s waiting for my

take- out.

When I got to see people’s emotion on their face, now I see a mask and sunglasses.

When times were simpler.

I got to walk in a store and hear someone tell a person “you are hired”, now I walk in a store

and they tell me “masks are required.”

When times were simpler.

I got to walk on the beach and see light, now its “no Jenna, there are too many people out tonight.”

When times were simpler.

I got to have my summer fun, now when I go to ocean city it feels like little to none.


A Caring Father

Brittany Organista


A father that wakes up earlier, then the sun

A father that comes home, saying ‘‘goodnight’’.

One day he was very sick, the parents had left in the night to go to a hospital.

Only the mother comes back.

Days go by that felt like ages, waiting to find out if the father had the vicious virus.

Tears run down the children’s face as they hear the words “he is positive’’.

It was one of the child’s birthday.

The father barely able to see his child through the small device

The child sees he has tubs everywhere on him

It was difficult for the child to witness; the child goes into a bathroom.

Crying her father will come home soon.

The mother calls for her daughter; she tries to brush the tears away.

“Are you okay” the mother says as the child starts to cry again.

The child explains that she felt guilty for not talking to her father out of fear.

The father then comforts his daughter.

A month passed by; it was the day the father comes back home.

The children come running down the stairs, as the father walks in.

They all hug him like they never had.


Hockey on Snow Days

Jacob Sindler


It was a tradition I made up, Hockey at home on snow days

I would wake up to see the snow falling, excited as can be

Running downstairs to get something to eat, while also getting snow gear ready

I grabbed my hockey stick from the bin, set up the nets

It was time to have fun, and it starts now

The trees were covered in clumps of snow, feeling as it were a winter wonderland

The driveway was covered in ice, I could barely move around

We would start playing, and we start to glide on the ice

Keeping our balance as we can, before falling and laughing

I would shoot the puck in the net, dive into the snow as a celebration and create a snow angel

The puck glides across the ice, as I run for it

Slipping and sliding as I would, this is amazing

The game would end, Hot cocoa being served inside the house

I thought to myself, we have to do this again