Caitlin Ryan is a sophomore English major.
Undoubtedly one of the most powerful presidential commencements to date, Inauguration Day 2021 was the unprecedented celebration we needed after a stressful period of pandemic and political unrest.
While Inauguration Day marked the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidency, for the first time in American political history, women of color were finally given the spotlight they deserve for empowering change.
The most powerful part of the ceremonies was hearing National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman present her original poem, “The Hill We Climb.” I was inspired by Gorman’s poise, poignancy, and insight. Her words: “We did not feel prepared to be the heirs / of such a terrifying hour / but within it we found the power / to author a new chapter,” deeply resonated with me because of my tumultuous relationship with my American identity.
As an ally against racial injustice, I have grown skeptical of placing hope in politics because of the systematic oppression and constant misrepresentation inherent in this country. I sympathize with people across America who carry the weight of history marked by violence, terror, and oppression on their backs. We should take what Gorman wrote to heart; we can, and must, take responsibility to write a new, more equitable chapter in the American narrative. Invigorated by Gorman’s words, I feel empowered to create a better nation for all people in our country.
Kamala Harris being sworn in as the first female, Black, and South Asian Vice President additionally made me feel that our country is progressing. For the first time, women can see themselves in a vice-president who has felt the effect of abusive systems herself and, nonetheless, excelled in her field.
Being the second-in-command to the most influential person in American politics, not to mention the President of the Senate, Harris is in a prime position to push a racially and gender inclusive legislative agenda. Moving forward with diverse representation is a step in the right direction for a nation with so much work to do.
I was initially unsure about Harris’ commitment to fighting social injustice given her history as District Attorney of San Francisco and Attorney General of California, which made me question her ability to deconstruct racist systems such as mass incarceration. However, after hearing Harris emphasize the importance of aspiration as a catalyst for change in her inauguration speech, I felt assured that she will advocate for increased representation and visibility for those who traditionally haven’t had a voice before, such as formerly incarcerated folks or young people who were casualties of the school to prison pipeline.
I would love to see Harris address issues, such as our lack of affordable healthcare and wide wage gap, which would improve American standards of living. While at the same time, focusing on criminal justice reform by revisiting federal sentencing guidelines and by mandating the use of consent decrees, legally binding documents which hold law enforcement agencies accountable for misconduct.
When Harris said, “we are bold, fearless, and ambitious,” her perception of the American people became clear to me. Clinging to Harris’ positive thinking, I feel refreshed that we again have leadership that speaks of progress so boldly.
Additionally, by wearing a purple power suit on Inauguration Day as an ode to Shirley Chisholm, who was the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first African-American candidate up for a major party’s nomination in the 1972 presidential election, Harris symbolically reiterated her allegiance to female accomplishment and the liberation of women— women of color, especially. Sometimes, the simplest gestures can prove commitment and instill trust.
Former president Donald Trump neglected to appear on Jan. 20, becoming the first president to not attend his successor’s inauguration since former President Grant in 1869. Trump successfully provided one last demonstration of buffoonery by breaking the tradition of a civil transfer of power. I cannot think of a more perfect way to end a presidency that never should have been.
If there’s one thing I’ll be taking away from the events of Inauguration Day, Kamala Harris and Amanda Gorman speaking to, and for, our nation gave me hope in the increasing opportunity, inclusivity, and representation of women in our country. As a white woman, I acknowledge the importance of taking a backseat in order to leave space for the voices of women of color, as the Inauguration proceedings demonstrated so well.
Here’s to a Trump-less presidential office, cultivating diverse representation, and acknowledging the accomplishments of women of all color. Here is to the future of America.