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Youth poet laureate overcomes challenges, wows at inauguration

Amanda Gorman’s inspiring story

Viewers of President Biden’s inauguration were stunned when a beautiful, impeccably poised young African-American woman strode to the podium, and, with sparkling diction, addressed the President, Vice-President, and the world, and then launched into spellbinding six-minute recitation of her poem, “The Hill We Climb.” No one watching would have guessed Gorman had overcome significant speech and auditory issues to get to that podium as the nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate.

As soon as she ended the poem with the couplet “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it / If only we’re brave enough to be it,” folks like me immediately Googled her. Among the articles was a piece by Tara Drinks in, which, to my amazement, detailed the challenges Gorman faced as a premature twin.

Drinks writes: “Gorman was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder in kindergarten. She also has speech articulation issues that make it difficult for her to pronounce certain words and sounds.” (The “r” sound in particular.)

Lucky for Gorman, her single mother insisted she get extra help in school, which Gorman initially rebelled against. But lucky for the headstrong youngster, her mother was equally stubborn. Apparently, that trait runs in the family. “I refused to use the accommodations,” Gorman told Drinks. “My mom pushed me to use the extra time on my tests.”

Eventually, Gorman came to appreciate the extra help. She learned to read later than her peers, but became an avid reader and writer. Poetry, needless to say, was a game changer. Drinks writes, “In third grade, a teacher introduced Amanda to poetry and metaphor for the first time. Because of her communication issues, she was entranced by the power of poetry to express ideas.”

A friend of mine who is a longtime speech pathologist told me, “Unfortunately, all too often students with processing disorders are underestimated in their abilities and their intelligence because they don’t respond during a conversational exchange as quickly as the average listener expects. Amanda Gorman is a living testament to how just because we learn differently from one another no one is ‘less than.’ Perhaps, because of this stellar human being, other kids will get a better chance.”

Especially if they are lucky enough to have a stubborn mom.

FUN WITH POETRY: Family Read-Alouds: Fun with Poetry

MORE FUN WITH POETRY: Get your kids started on poetry

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