The Hill We Climb: Seniors Craft Artwork Inspired by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman

Two Oak Knoll School seniors – Ryann Hillenbrand ’21 of Chatham and Teresa Pollard ’21 of South Orange – are honoring Black History Month with drawings they crafted inspired by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

The students’ artwork will represent Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child on the Holy Child Network of Schools’ website with student art from other Holy Child schools around the country.

The drawings each reflect the students’ unique interpretation of Gorman’s poem.

Pollard was drawn to the realistic optimism that Gorman represents, which she said is, “the acknowledgment of past mistakes and our country’s flaws that must be accompanied by efforts to fix or correct for those mistakes in the present.”

In her montage, Pollard incorporates the symbolism in Gorman’s poem.

“The flag and loosely clasped hands behind Gorman represent the context of disunity and oppression in which she gave her recitation; while the eyes look on from our past — with its accomplishments and flaws — to our present, in which we have the opportunity and responsibility to ‘rebuild, reconcile, and recover,’” said Pollard. “The bridge behind Gorman, the hands climbing up to the mountain, and the dawn at the summit represent the poet’s call for us all to become the light we wish to see amidst the darkness.”

While watching the inauguration, Hillenbrand was inspired by the line in Gorman’s poem, “Everyone shall sit under their own fig tree.”

“The tranquility and peacefulness of that image was refreshing, and I had planned to draw a portrait of Amanda Gorman under a fig tree,” said Hillenbrand. “But, as I began drawing my portrait of Amanda, I decided to change the design and have the portrait stand alone. This decision reflected Gorman’s strength and her ability to stand alone and captivate the audience, just as she did at the inauguration.”

“Gorman’s quote, ‘We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another,’ resonated with me and depicted Amanda’s journey towards equity,” said Hillenbrand.

Pollard and Hillenbrand created their drawings during classes led by Oak Knoll’s Creative Arts Department Head, Will Cardell. Both students laude Cardell for the creative space he creates for all his students.

“Black History month gives us the opportunity to take pause and honor the courage and resolve of such iconic figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Marion Anderson in their efforts to forge the modern civil rights movement,” said Cardell, who, after feeling inspired by his students, created his own version of the project. “Now, in our midst, is a dynamic young black woman, Amanda Gorman, who has picked up the fallen standard to carry forward in her dedication to justice and equality. Amanda Gorman is a wonderful role model for our young women at Oak Knoll, and her message is powerful and uplifting: it is not enough merely to identify the injustice and racial bias in our society; ‘we must put our differences aside’ and work together to create a more peaceful and just nation.”

Hillenbrand, who had almost no experience with art before entering Oak Knoll School, credits Cardell’s art classes for fostering her sketching and water coloring skills.

“Mr. Cardell is one of my greatest inspirations for art, and he has constantly encouraged me to tackle and solve all creative challenges that come my way,” she said.

Pollard said Cardell always goes above and beyond to help his students grow artistically while helping students find art inspiration.

“He’s helped me grow into the type of work I find most interesting, while giving me the skills and encouragement to continue pursuing art, in some shape or form, in the future,” said Pollard.

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