RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A local seventh grader is garnering national recognition for earning a top spot in the 2021 Inaugural Poem Contest, among hundreds of entries from across the United States.
Gabby Marshall, 12, a student at The Steward School, says she began jotting down notes for her poem “The Power of Hope Today” on a sticky note in the kitchen while her mother prepared dinner. The piece may have had humble beginnings, but it shares a message of divisions and possibilities for the future of a united country.
“I think that’s what brings our nation through every single challenge, is there are people out there who believe that they can do anything, that good always comes out victorious,” Marshall said. “I think that’s really what holds us together.”
Marshall says English is her favorite subject, so it was fitting when her English teacher, Mary Hopkins, sent her a link to the contest.
“I knew she’d think it was fun,” Hopkins said. “She wouldn’t think of it as another assignment or something her teacher was asking her to do. It was something she would enjoy.”
Organized by the Academy of American Poets, the contest included entries from across the U.S. from students 18 and younger who wrote their own inaugural poems in anticipation of Wednesday’s swearing in of then-President-elect Joe Biden. Marshall says she never expected anything to come of her entry.
“I just thought I was putting myself out there, and it turned out to be this crazy experience,” she said.
Two days before the presidential inauguration, Hopkins asked Marshall if she had heard anything from the Academy regarding her poem submission.
“She said, ‘Well, I’m probably in billionth place, but I’m so glad I did it and thank you so much for suggesting it,’ and that really speaks to the kind of student she is,” Hopkins said. “She didn’t really care. It was just something fun for her to do.”
The following day, Marshall learned she had placed third out of hundreds of entries. Hallie Knight, 18, from Jacksonville, Fla. and Mina King, 17, from Shreveport, La. placed first and second, respectively.
Marshall’s poem begins:
Today’s hope is a flickering candle that dwells in a snow-dusted window,
Circulating the prayers of Christmas mornings.
Today’s hope is the crisp daffodil in colorless photos,
Containing the soul of a small child,
Who only wishes and knows of peace and love.
She tells 8News that she enjoys photography with her father, and was inspired by a photo she took of a daffodil while out one day.
“It just reminds me of happiness that every small child should contain, like the joy that just brings happiness to the room when they walk in because they’re just so sweet and innocent,” Marshall said.
The poem goes on to describe hope and the different forms it takes, something Marshall says she believes is inherently American.
“As the United States of America, that’s kind of our deal, and we have so many different cultures, and acceptance is such a huge part,” she said. “If we all come together, it can just be so peaceful, and I think it’s just so important to accept everyone because it just makes us stronger and more unified.”
“She’s fabulous. I hope to be like her one day, if I can, and she’s such a role model,” Marshall said. “She’s just so beautiful, inside and out, and her writing, it was really amazing.”
Hopkins showed the Inauguration Day poem, titled “The Hill We Climb,” to her seventh-grade English class the next day.
“I just am so inspired. It’s been a difficult year, and so to have words be so important is wonderful,” she said. “[Students] are engaged, they are interested. There’s a lot happening in the world right now and they’re paying attention.”
Marshall tells 8News that she thinks it is important to be engaged and informed in order to prevent others from being hurt based on who they are.
“Everyone should have a chance, and we need to stand up for that, and my hope is their hope,” she said. “I just think it’s important to take chances and put yourself out there because you never know where it’s going to take you.”