To say I am awed by the creativity of our youth is to understate my wonder and amazement. My parents, Harold and Lois Flanagan Almond, commonly said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” So with respect to Amanda Gorman, the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate, reading her poem during the inauguration of President Joe Biden, I am inspired to write a poetic essay in a flattering manner.
While Poet Amanda Gorman writes about America more broadly, my version of “The Hill We Climb” focuses on Upshur County Schools. More specifically, the challenge of our hill to climb is the building of a new Buckhannon-Upshur High School for the next generation of our youth.
To say that hearing Ms. Gorman recite her poem was transformative is to understate how profound her rendering affected me. I felt inspired to see our Board of Education service in a new way. Here is my free verse poem, borrowing phrases from Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” while adding my own reflections and musings, challenging us for a new day ahead:
For when day dawns we ask ourselves,
where can we find light to set about our task in this never-ending shade?
Can we improve our vision to see more?
Let us stand on our Appalachian mountaintops and gain a vision for the future education of our children.
Let us stand on one special mountain shaved off to form the Upshur County Regional Airport.
From there we see the future flying high ... the United States Space Force; the United States Air Force; the first woman and the next man landing on the moon in 2024.
By projections of NASA Artemis using innovative technologies, let us see exploration
of the lunar surface more than ever before.
Let us peer down to the valley and into the ground where our deep coal mines open.
Let us see again the cold January days and nights waiting in the Baptist church and let us experience the loss for our mountain community that we name the Sago Mine Disaster. We braved the belly of the beast 15 years ago.
From our mountain, too, let us look back 50 years when we joined hands with citizens of Barbour, Lewis, and Upshur, forming a trade school educating in technical fields. We were the first to cross county lines, establishing employability education for a whole region.
We broke through norms and notions of “what just is” to establish “what isn’t.” We saw the future and we established “just-ice.”
And now we desire more for our students.
The dawn is ours.
Now is the time to build a new and innovative high school.
The here and now is here before we knew it.
Somehow we can do it. Somehow we’ve weathered well and witnessed much, as “Mountaineers are always free.”
Upon my word, West Virginia isn’t broken.
We are Upshur Strong successors of our county and our time.
And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine; but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge a union with purpose.
Our children deserve the best.
We hanker for our time in the sun, standing tall on our hilltop composing a poetic essay that sings, “Take us home down country roads.”
Committing ourselves to a future worthy of all cultures, colors, character and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes, as we stand on our central Appalachian mountaintops, not to what stands between us but what stands before us.
We close the divide of any county line or any development up and down the Interstate-79 Corridor because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. Buccaneer Sports remain all in fun. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Minute Men, Tigers, Colts, or Wild Cats.
Too many West Virginians have sought work elsewhere, moving on down the Hillbilly Highway:
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.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree. And no one shall make them afraid if we’re to live up to our own time.
Then victory won’t lie in the blade. But in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade.
The hill we climb.
If only we dare, it’s because we are Americans first.
Mountaineer pride second is more than a pride we inherit.
It is a can-do attitude. It is a faith in God we trust.
Truly this is West Virginia’s time.
We have our eyes on the future.
History has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
No more inferiority complex for us.
We feared at our inception as a westernmost expansion of America establishing Buckhannon over 200 years ago. Our forefathers sought splendid isolation in the hills and hollows.
But within our heirship we found the power to author a new chapter. To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be.
Our country has been bruised by the coronavirus pandemic, but we are whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by tribulation, because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens.
We make all decisions based on what is best for our students. Our children are our future.
But one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind Central West Virginia as a place better than the one we were left with.
We are building, innovating and creating in our nook called Upshur County, in our exceptional American nation.
We have confidence in our students, who are diverse and beautiful.
Our students will emerge, battered and beautiful. When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.