Inaugural poem provides teaching moment at Reno-area school

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Victoria Vo watched from the back row of her kindergarten class.

Her hands lay on her desk with her fingers interlaced. Her eyes were glued to the screen at the front of the brightly decorated classroom at Alice Smith Elementary School in Golden Valley, north of Reno.

She watched her teacher replaying video of Amanda Gorman reciting “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Teacher Hannah Thrower explained it was a poem being read in Washington, D.C., in front of a large crowd on an historic day. Thrower admitted that the last few lines make her tear up every single time she hears them.

Victoria watched, leaning forward in her seat as Gorman, 22, moved her hands gracefully with each line.

Then came the end her teacher was talking about.

“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Victoria, 6, clapped.

“That poem is one that will be talked about and I want them to know they heard it in my classroom,” Thrower told the Reno Gazette Journal about teaching this lesson to some of Washoe County’s youngest students.

The class hangs on Thrower’s every word as she breaks down the poem that catapulted Gorman into instant celebrity – and on this day is garnering close attention from students just learning to read.

It’s a lesson that students three times their age might expect. But on this day and every day, Thrower is adamant the world underestimates kindergarten students.

“Don’t underestimate what kindergarten students can do or understand,” she said.

Gorman, the country’s National Youth Poet Laureate, is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. Only three other presidents have invited a poet to the inauguration stage.

Gorman again made history when she read another original poem, “Chorus of the Captains,” at the Super Bowl last Sunday in Tampa, Florida.

For Victoria and her classmates, it’s exposure to poetry at an early age.

Thrower goes over the inauguration poem, reading passages. Line by line she asks the students to find the powerful words they hear.

They shout out words and wave their hands.

Hope, justice, bridges, purpose and brave can be heard from inside the little classroom with 15 desks.

“Cultures,” students shout after she reads the line, “We are striving to forge a union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.”

“What are cultures?” Thrower asks. “Do we have different ones in our classroom and is that a good thing?”

Thrower asks each student to pick a word that resonates with them as she helps define its meaning.

“When she says light, she means the goodness in the world,” Thrower explains.

Six-year-old Colt Stanley picks “benevolent” after hearing the line, “A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold.”

“I’m so glad you picked that word,” Thrower tells him.

For Victoria it’s an easy choice.

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true,

that even as we grieved, we grew,

that even as we hurt, we hoped,

that even as we tired, we tried,

that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.”

For Victoria, there’s no question what word stands out.

“Victorious sounds just like my name.”

And in a class like Thrower’s, it’s defining Victoria’s future, too.

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